The What, Why, and How of TikTok for B2C Brands [Examples]

Nose painting. Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. Mad science experiments. The common thread? It’s all happening on TikTok, the social networking app for short video content.

Called “the defining social media app of Gen Z,” TikTok is a surprisingly friendly place for B2C marketers. Last fall, e.l.f. Cosmetics launched its #eyeslipsface campaign – inviting TikTok users to show off their makeup talents to the tune of a 15-second track the cosmetic company had made for the challenge. The campaign smashed records. Its initial video garnered 2.5 billion views in the first two weeks and sparked over 3 million user-generated videos.

@hairbyaliciawebSuper Blonde Start To Finish 🤩#fyp #eyeslipsface #foryoupage♬ eyes. lips. face. (feat. Holla FyeSixWun) – iLL Wayno

.@elfcosmetics #eyeslipsface campaign video generated 3 million+ user-response #videos on @tiktok_us, says @carinarampelt via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

And that’s just a taste of what TikTok has to offer.

What is TikTok?

TikTok, known as Douyin in its home base of China, is a social network for sharing short videos, often set to music. Lip-syncing and dance videos are especially popular in part because TikTok merged with lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2018, migrating all former “musers” to TikTok’s platform.

The app – which The Verge has christened the “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine” – gives social media users a chance to let loose and indulge their playful side. Unlike social platforms like Instagram, TikTok isn’t about crafting an idealized version of yourself. TikTok users embrace their silliness, performing cheesy dance routines with their friends and participating in goofy short-lived trends like nose painting (yep, this is a real thing). The platform’s best-known creators are quirky, relatable, and above all, real.

@thehypehouse Avani failed at the end😂♬ original sound – trvphouse

TikTok surged to prominence last year, with over a billion downloads and an estimated 800 million monthly active users worldwide – 40% are between the ages of 16 and 24. While many organizations have dabbled in the platform, only a select few are treating it as a core part of their content marketing strategy. This is a mistake, particularly if you are a B2C brand targeting Gen Z.

Why your brand should commit to TikTok

TikTok’s extremely loyal and active users set it apart from other social networks. They open the app an average of eight times per day and browse for approximately five minutes each time – much longer sessions than Snapchat or Instagram. “The engagement on TikTok is unreal,” creator Drea Knowsbest, who has over 4 million followers, told Vox in a recent interview. “All the creators on the app have very loyal fans.”

.@tiktok_us users on average open app 8x a day and spend 5 mins each time, says @digiday via @cmicontent. #socialmedia Click To Tweet

Brands who take TikTok seriously are reaping incredible results. Not only did e.l.f.’s #eyeslipsface campaign smash records for the brand, it also inspired celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Reese Witherspoon to spontaneously join the challenge without being compensated.

@ellendegeneres#eyeslipsface #donjulio♬ eyes. lips. face. (feat. Holla FyeSixWun) – iLL Wayno

Even more shockingly, the 15-second music clip in the campaign got so big that e.l.f. released it as a full-length single on Spotify and Apple Music. DJs played it in clubs, the track got picked up by a major record label, and now there’s even an official music video on Vevo. That’s the kind of virality most marketers can only dream of achieving – and it was all made possible thanks to TikTok’s exceptionally engaged user base.

What most brands get wrong about TikTok

There’s no way e.l.f. would have inspired such incredible results if it didn’t adapt to the unique demands of the TikTok platform. That’s opposite of what many marketers do with TikTok – they repurpose material from other social platforms and expect it to perform just as well.

Marketers need to adapt to the unique demands of the @tiktok_us platform not repurpose material from other #social platforms, says @carinarampelt via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

As Evan Horowitz, CEO of the agency behind e.l.f.’s campaign, told Vox, “TikTok is the opposite of Instagram in some important ways: Instagram is all about your most polished ‘best life’ that you put out there, and TikTok is so real, it’s so raw.”

Polished, studio-quality video is antithetical on a platform dominated by clips of teens lip-syncing in their bedrooms. And this might be what’s scaring marketers from committing to TikTok – tried-and- true video strategies from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram don’t translate.

But this lack of TikTok understanding represents an opportunity for brands that take the time to understand the platform first and then create the content.

How to succeed on TikTok

A little bit of preparation and a willingness to experiment will help any brand succeed on TikTok. Here’s how.

1. Do your research

If there’s proof that anyone can succeed on TikTok with the right preparation, it’s The Washington Post.

If there’s proof that anyone can succeed on @tiktok_us with the right preparation, it’s @washingtonpost, says @carinarampelt via @cmicontent. #socialmedia #examples Click To Tweet

You’d never imagine that a 142-year-old newspaper – especially one where the average reader is over 40 – would have a dedicated TikTok following, but it does, all thanks to the dedicated efforts of The Post’s TikTok creator Dave Jorgenson.

@washingtonpost#ceoof wild nights

♬ Strange tattoo – washingtonpost

Before creating videos for TikTok, Dave researched the platform in depth and pitched the idea to his superiors. “He truly came with a full stash of research, and he’d spent a lot of time, and it impressed me instantly how much he passionately believed in it,” says Michelle Jaconi, Jorgenson’s boss.

His research prompted him to try creating mockumentary clips about life in the newsroom in the style of the TV show The Office. “All of (Gen Z) is growing up re-watching The Office constantly,” Dave told The Atlantic. “And I do think that there is a little bit of a tone of The Office that they love, and I try to recreate that in TikTok. That sort of mockumentary style, zoom, and all these different things.”

That play for the younger audience is critical to The Washington Post. As Dave explained in The Atlantic interview: “This is a really good way to, at the very least, get (younger people) to trust the brand or to know the brand.”

.@WashingtonPost uses #TikTok to get younger people to trust and know the brand: @davejorgenson via @TheAtlantic. Click To Tweet

His hard work has paid off. The Washington Post has amassed over 360,000 TikTok followers since May 2019.

2. Work with an influencer

Since TikTok prioritizes authenticity, brands must build trust with their audience on the platform. One way to do this is by working with established TikTok creators. As Joel Mathew, president of Fortress Consulting Group, writes in Forbes, “Advertising through influencers allows brands to promote through someone that a niche community watches, engages with and trusts on a daily basis.”

Chipotle partnered with comedic TikTok creator @itssadowski to create a micro-sketch featuring his character “Mama Penny” panicking because she doesn’t know how to make a burrito for her friend. (The solution, it turns out, is to order from Chipotle and hide the evidence). It’s pure silliness — but if the video’s 275.9K “likes” are any indication, it was a hit with Chipotle’s audience.

@chipotleMama Penny’s burritos are unmatched. itssadowski #chipotle #comedy♬ original sound – chipotle

How do you find TikTok influencers? Influencer Marketing Hub offers a couple tips. Search on Google for “top TikTok creator” and your niche or industry. Or you can use its free TikTok influencer search tool.

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3. Understand your metrics

TikTok offers detailed analytics to any user who switches to a pro account (just follow the instructions in the link). It’s free to do. Then you can access dedicated tools for tracking your brand’s TikTok performance over time, including monthly views, follower growth, and trending videos.

These tools can help you assess what’s working well and what you can fine-tune to better engage your audience. Make sure to regularly take time to evaluate your content.

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Build a bond with Gen Z

TikTok exploded last year, and its success indicates it’s not going away any time soon. The platform’s highly engaged user base is an ideal audience for B2C brands targeting a youthful demographic. If your brand is trying to reach Gen Z this year, it’s time to pull out your smartphone and get on TikTok – time is ticking.

This year also should be the time to connect with your fellow content marketers, get inspiration, and learn a lot at Content Marketing World this October. Register today. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute




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The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Vanity Metrics

Editor’s note: Given that metrics matter to every content marketer, we’ve brought back this article from a couple years ago – everything discussed is still key today.

Using vanity metrics to measure the performance of content campaigns on social media is perhaps one of the simplest things to do in marketing but also one of the most difficult.

It’s simple because vanity metrics are easy to obtain in large numbers – all platforms supply them; it’s difficult because they are often ambiguous when it comes to reporting a return on investment (ROI) or value to a business. It’s this second point that is the thorn in the side of many marketers struggling to discover the true value of a vanity metric to a business.

In this article, “vanity metrics” include impressions, “likes,” shares, comments, followers, open rates, views, traffic, time on site, bounce rate, and more. Often called “engagement metrics” or “consumption metrics,” they are the most-used metrics in social media, content marketing, digital advertising, PR, and inbound campaigns to measure the performance and success of marketing efforts.

As far as the numbers go, vanity metrics look great on paper. But the sheen on these numbers fades when you use them to explain important business outcomes like ROI or customer lifetime value (CLTV); they become hollow digits that contribute little substance to proving your marketing is making money.

The sheen of vanity metrics fades when explaining #ROI or customer lifetime value, says @LogocracyCopy via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

A case in point, the number of “likes” earned from a Facebook post rarely correlates to the number of products sold on a store shelf. Some would argue that there is no correlation at all. Indeed, it is possible to make more sales from a post with only one “like” than from a post with 10,000 “likes.” The number of engagements is usually irrelevant to the number of sales. There is no clear correlation or causation between the metric and the goal.

It’s the act of counting vanity metrics as evidence for success that is a problem — a problem easily demonstrated when measuring metrics such as impressions or traffic. In the example below (highlighted in green), Facebook earns three times more traffic than SlideShare as a channel. If reporting stops at the number of people clicking through to the site, Facebook is the best-performing channel. However, that assumption would be incorrect.

 Click to enlarge

Taking a deeper dive by following that traffic down the funnel to a conversion and the revenue earned by conversions (highlighted in blue), you’ll find that SlideShare is the more valuable channel for this website. The vanity metric of traffic tells only half the story. There is no point in counting traffic unless it’s paired against a business objective. Yes, you need traffic to convert; but more traffic does not always equal more conversions.

Counting traffic is pointless unless it’s paired w/ a business objective, says @logocracycopy via @cmicontent. #ROI #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

As a caveat, vanity metrics such as impressions, “likes,” and traffic are not useless, quite the contrary. The value of a vanity metric is in measuring non-transactional marketing goals (such as brand awareness, sentiment, and share of voice) as well as to optimize campaigns and troubleshoot marketing problems.

A vanity metric’s value is measuring non-transactional #marketing goals, says @logocracycopy via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

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Problem with reporting vanity metrics

Let’s take a step back and look at why so many marketers use vanity metrics as indicators of business success. The simplest answer is, as Seth Godin says, “Those clicks, views, and ‘likes’ are only there because they’re easy, not relevant.” Vanity metrics are typically free or easy to obtain compared with other valuable metrics such as ROI or CLTV, which require time, qualification, and testing to build.

Those clicks, views, & ‘likes’ are only there because they’re easy, not relevant, says @ThisIsSethsBlog via @cmicontent. #measurement Click To Tweet

Marketers take this easy route peppered with vanity metrics, not because they are lazy but because they are under pressure to show immediate success to superiors. Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and co-author of HBR’s Go To Market Tools, explains, “CFOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver quarterly earnings, and may not be patient for the longer-term effects of marketing to take hold. You’re asking them to believe in forward movement in a progression through a customer’s purchase journey, and that can take a long time.”

Marketers use vanity metrics because they are both easy to obtain and they help show others in the organization that marketing provides immediate value. In other words, it’s quick and cheap reporting. Sounds a little dirty, doesn’t it? Surely we can do better than this?

Advertisers are using engagement to report ROI. It’s not how such metrics work and it’s an example of why marketers are terrible at content impact measurement.

It is important to remember that while the marketing spend will have an impact on the profit-and-loss statement immediately, dollars spent today are building the brand as an asset for the future. Marketing efforts not only drive sales and profits in the short term, they strengthen brand equity and customer relationships over time. You only see these long-term results through effective and relevant content, and evaluation of vanity metrics over time.

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Optimization metrics, not vanity metrics

Like clickbait, the words “vanity metric” have earned undeserved negative connotations, making it easy for marketers to dismiss their value. I like the term “optimization metrics” because it helps you understand their value. The purpose of a vanity/optimization metric is to help optimize your content for your target audience on a specific channel.

Vanity metrics’ purpose is to optimize your #content for audiences on a specific channel, says @Logocracycopy via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

When you report the number of impressions, clicks, or shares your content receives, you should NOT tie the numbers to ROI. Instead, you should tie them to better understanding your audience on that channel. Even the same vanity metrics (“likes,” comments, and shares) have different meanings depending on the channel.

For example, a 2017 study by Business Insider revealed that people felt safer commenting on LinkedIn than on other channels. One likely explanation is that, unlike YouTube or Facebook, LinkedIn includes a person’s professional profile (name, place of employment, education), and thus people are more respectful and constructive when providing feedback. It’s harder to be a troll when people know where you work. Whereas, on YouTube, an individual can create an anonymous account and troll the comments.

As a marketer, you can judge the vanity metric of comments on LinkedIn to be more valuable to your brand’s sentiment and marketing efforts than those received on YouTube.

Alternatively, when it comes to the vanity metric of traffic, those who engage with content through Google search are usually of higher value (if your goal is transactional) than those on Instagram.

With this in mind, leverage vanity metrics to support how to improve messaging to your target audiences through A/B testing and troubleshooting.

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Relationship between A/B testing and vanity metrics

Again, vanity metrics are most useful to report on your marketing goals, not your business goals.

Vanity metrics are most useful to measure your #marketing goals, not your business goals, says @LogocracyCopy via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

As an example, let’s take the marketing goal of awareness. You want to know if your content is resonating and relevant to your target audience members – are they aware of your brand and content? To uncover this, measure awareness through A/B testing and the resulting vanity metrics. Let’s say you post content to LinkedIn and want to test imagery to see which works better for your targeted LinkedIn audience. You run an A/B test on snippet images to see if the image of the computer or the image of the woman is more relevant to your target audience.

 

Hypothesis: What image engages my audience better to maximize my reach?

Data: Click-through rate and impressions are evaluated. More clicks equal a positive correlation. More impressions could mean positive or negative correlation (I explore this further in the next section).

Insight: The CTR vanity metric is a 160% higher rate for the image of the woman than for the image of the computer. Therefore, you can conclude that images of people are more relevant to this targeted LinkedIn audience. But this finding may not be the case on Facebook because Facebook has a different audience with different intent and different engagement behavior.

Action: You now adjust future content posts on LinkedIn to the optimized iconography.

Note: A/B testing requires strategic planning across a large audience pool to deliver actionable insights. It takes time to do this right, so expect posts to fail in the beginning when you are light on insights. But as your testing gets better so will your content and its performance.

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Using vanity metrics to troubleshoot content issues

Let’s say you are running a paid campaign on Facebook and it is underperforming regarding traffic (marketing goal) and sales (business objective). How can you use vanity metrics to solve this problem?

You know the campaign is receiving a below-average click-through rate based on:

  • Number of people reached by the post (impressions)
  • Number of engagements performed from the post (clicks)

First, evaluate the impressions because if you aren’t reaching the right audience, they can’t click. You hypothesize that you are reaching the right audience but not enough of them. Now, use that insight to increase your spend on Facebook to earn more eyeballs.

On the flip side, if impressions are abnormally high but people are not clicking on the content, you can hypothesize that you are targeting the wrong audience or your content isn’t sufficiently compelling.

Exercises like this show you how valuable vanity metrics can be to your marketing efforts. Using vanity metrics in this manner will help improve your content on the channel and, over time, lead to higher engagement and success for your marketing goals.

Use vanity metrics to improve your #content on #socialmedia channels and lead to higher engagement, says @LogocracyCopy via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

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What about the ROI?

Vanity metrics contribute to a return on investment, but how much they contribute to ROI fluctuates wildly; you need to align your expectations. At times, you can clearly see a direct line of sight from vanity metrics to an ROI goal; yet most of the time, the vanity metric is so high up the funnel that the results are too ambiguous to contribute effectively around bottom-of-the-funnel goals.

To illustrate this point, it is both difficult and fruitless to measure the impact a piece of engagement (such as a “like” on Twitter) had on creating a sale on your website. First, as we’ve discussed, metrics such as the number of “likes” do not necessarily correlate to the number of sales. Secondly, time is important.

Don’t try to measure the impact a #Twitter ‘like’ had on creating a sale on your website, says @LogocracyCopy via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Let’s speculate about a customer who “liked” your tweet 18 months before they converted to a sale. A lot of time has passed between that engagement and the business goal, which makes it unlikely that the “like” on Twitter had anything substantial to do with the sale. Perhaps the “like” happened on a mobile phone whereas the sale occurred on desktop. Unless the customer is tracked across devices, her “like” on Twitter is invisible to the eventual outcome. All these factors support the relatively ambiguous and pointless exercise of tying vanity metrics to measuring ROI without a good attribution model in place.

Click to enlarge

Instead, when looking to measure ROI, focus on metrics that allow you to enhance the volume and quality of your conversions such as customer lifetime value (CLTV). This metric is not a vanity metric. Nor is it easy or fast to build. Vanity metrics illuminate movement along the customer journey, but CLTV ultimately is attributed to how well you track and understand your consumer journey.

To better understand your CLTV, you need to build attribution models and lead scoring, and set business goals and values against user actions. Again, this process is not easy nor fast – if it were, none of us would be doing the foolhardy practice of using vanity metrics as the substitute.

You will not know your CLTV for perhaps a couple of years. During that time, you should use your vanity metrics to A/B test and enhance your marketing around the audience with the goal to develop a better understanding around their journey and clarity on their CLTV. Better use of vanity metrics leads to a more accurate and actionable CLTV, resulting in better business returns.

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Use vanity metrics the right way

Overall, vanity metrics can be used to measure many things, but they are most valuable when used to test and improve how your target audience is reacting to your content on different channels.

Use vanity metrics to best measure your marketing goals such as sentiment or brand awareness on a specific channel. For business goals, such as ROI, vanity metrics should take a back seat to those metrics that build the customer lifetime value narrative (conversions, subscriptions, MQLs, SQLs, etc.). But note, this is not a quick win. CLTV takes time, A/B testing, volumes of content, and conversions to build an accurate picture. Don’t look for the quick-and-dirty win with vanity metrics; it’s not there.

Get smarter about measurement and other tech opportunities for your content marketing April 20 to 22 at ContentTECH Summit. Learn more and register soon.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute




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Inclusive Buyer Personas: Where new product ideas live and growth happens

Cutting a piece of paper seems like a simple enough task.

But for much of my childhood, I got anxiety every time I had to do it.

From the time I was in kindergarten, any piece of paper I cut looked a hot mess.

The problem? I’m left-handed. And most scissors are made for people to use their right hands to cut. So if you use “traditional” scissors with your left hand, your paper ends up looking like this:

As a kindergartener with perfectionist tendencies, I thought something was wrong with me. I avoided cutting whenever possible. And when that wasn’t an option, I learned how to cut with my right hand, so I wouldn’t feel so inadequate when working with scissors.

It wasn’t until I got to fifth grade that I discovered left-handed scissors existed. It was like a miracle. Finally, I could cut with the hand that felt most natural to me, without feeling like I belonged in a remedial class. I realized that I wasn’t the problem. I just hadn’t had the equipment needed to help me perform at my best.

Who do I blame for the years of scissors-induced trauma?

Sure, the marketers of these companies are an easy target. I could hurl accusations to them about their discriminatory practices, lack of empathy and insensitivity toward the 10% of the population who are left-handed. Hmph.

But the marketers are only a scapegoat of a bigger problem. The probable source of their disregard for left-handers was their buyer personas.

The personas that so many smart marketers live by caused them to make many qualified customers feel like they didn’t belong.

Inclusive Buyer Personas: The Foundation That Gives You the Keys to the Kingdom

Have you ever tried to buy a gift for someone you don’t know?

Over the holidays I went to a party where we did a white elephant gift exchange. A few hours before, I found myself aimlessly roaming around trying to find a cool gift a stranger would enjoy.

It’s hard buying gifts for people you don’t know very well. You end up finding something that is boring or generic enough so as not to offend anyone. But in trying to find a basic item, most of the time you end up forfeiting the opportunity to deliver a gift that the recipient will love.

Your business is like that. The products, services and experiences you deliver are like a gift you are giving the customers you serve. The better you know your customers, the better equipped you’ll be to give them gifts they’ll be excited about.

That’s why savvy marketers treat their customers like their good friends.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company Goop tripled their year-on-year revenue in 2017. Elise Loehnen, their Chief Content Officer, told me they attributed a large part of that growth to producing content and products for their readers who they view as their “friends”:

So, that’s really what we focused on is talking to our readers the way that we would talk to our smartest friends and giving them all the context, all the information that they would need to feel like they’re making a great decision or a great purchase.”

Grammy-Award winning singer, actress and entrepreneur Rihanna thinks of her fans and customers the same way:

“I have this perception that my friends are the consumer.”

In real life, you don’t need a document that details everything you know about your friends to help you be a good friend to them. But in business, a document like this – also known as buyer personas – is essential. It provides a guidebook for you and everyone on your team for how to interact with your customers to keep them coming back to you.

Good buyer personas are detailed enough that they demonstrate that you know your customers as well as you know your best friend, especially as it relates to the problem you help them solve.

When your personas are done right, they help you attract the customers you want like a magnet.

They provide a roadmap that enables you to know exactly what to do throughout your customer journey, to draw your customers closer to you. In particular, buyer personas help you with the following:

One: Personas Drive Products

There’s no need to guess about what kinds of products your customers want to buy from you.

When you know them well and pay attention to what they say and do, over time what they need most will become obvious, much the way it does with you and your friends.

Sprinkles Bakery knows that their ideal customer has a dog. So they’ve introduced a product line of “pup packs” designed to delight both dog-owner customers and their beloved best friends.

Sprinkles Pup Pack

The products you produce for your customers should be such a perfect match for them that they say, “Here, take my money!”

giphy

Two: Personas Drive Copy

Many of us use a different kind of lingo when we talk to our friends. It’s less formal. It’s rife with inside jokes that make it difficult for those who aren’t in our inner circle to follow along. The words we use with our friends deepen our bond.

A few years ago, I read Joanna’s post here on Copyhackers about time management. Every time I read it, I laugh out loud when I get to this part:

Bobby Bouchers mama

My mom wouldn’t get the joke. Many of my friends wouldn’t get the joke. But I get the joke. And that’s all that matters.

Joanna knew I would get this joke reference from 1998 because she knows me, her ideal reader and customer.

giphy 1

The way you talk to your customers is part of what makes them feel like they belong with you as well.

Thus your buyer personas should reflect the intimacy you have with them, that informs the way in which you communicate with each other, particularly in the copy you use along your customer journey.

Three: Personas Drive Photography

Business is about belonging. Effective marketing will signal to your ideal customers that they belong with you. They will feel like you see them, get them and designed your products, services and experiences to fit them perfectly.

When your buyer personas reflect your customer friends, it makes it easier for you to produce imagery that either is a reflection of who they are or who they aspire to be.

Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. They define an athlete as “anyone with a body.” When you consider it that way, the imagery associated with who their ideal customers are could take on many forms and multiple personas.

Nike has embraced that diversity of various personas with the photography on their Instagram page.

Nike insta grid

Your photography should communicate “you belong here” to your ideal customers.

Buyer Personas: The magnet that simultaneously attracts and repels

By their very nature, buyer personas help you exclude certain groups of customers. Not everyone can and should be your customer. The same way that everyone can’t be your friend.

But the excluding that you’re doing should be intentional. The challenge is this:

Far too many brands have personas that exclude large groups of customers, without their marketers even realizing it. It isn’t too difficult to understand why so much exclusion marketing happens.

It comes down to a scientific term known as homophily, which essentially goes like so:

“You’re just like me. You’ll fit in just fine here.”

The homophily principle says that “contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people.”

A group of researchers from the University of Arizona and Duke analyzed various studies of homophily over many decades. They published their findings in the paper, Birds of a Feather: Homophily In Social Networks. Here’s how they summarized their observations:

Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, co-membership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics. Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order.

The authors went on to add:

“By interacting only with others who are like ourselves, anything that we experience as a result of our position gets reinforced. It comes to typify ‘people like us.’”

In other words, when marketers go through the process of doing their ideal customer research and creating their buyer personas, they are more likely to profile prospects that are more similar to them, rather than dissimilar.

While that similarity helps you to focus your efforts on a group of customers whom you have an inherent degree of familiarity with, it also causes you to leave out those groups of customers who have backgrounds and experiences that deviate from your own.

Thus, it isn’t a far leap to hypothesize that many of the marketers who worked on scissors when I was a kid didn’t have a ton of left-handed people in their world. As a result, their frame of reference for considering how to serve left-handed people was limited or non-existent.

If a restaurant owner, chef, or meeting organizer doesn’t have people with dietary restrictions in their inner circle, they are less likely to fully consider those who do have them when they’re creating their menu.

EDITOR’S INTERJECTION: How long did it take for restaurants and pubs to add hooks for handbags under their tables?

While many brands have gotten away with marketing to “people like us,” trends show that approach won’t be so effective in the future.

The makeup of the people we serve is changing in multiple ways. Here are some noteworthy demographic trends you should be aware of:

While demographics shouldn’t be the only consideration when constructing your buyer personas, it is important to note the impact these demographic characteristics have on the psychographics and behaviors of the people you are serving.

And if your marketing is targeted effectively to your ideal customer, but it excludes one of their friends, then you run the risk of losing out on multiple groups of customers.

For health reasons, I follow a gluten-free diet. Thankfully, when I go out to eat with my friends, they are very good about making sure we go to a restaurant that has plenty of options for me to eat. My friends go through this effort because they want to include me. They want me around and aren’t going to let my dietary restrictions get in the way of our quality time together. And if a restaurant works for them, but doesn’t work for me, we don’t go.

With all the various types of differences that exist, buyer personas that only focus on what has historically been considered “mainstream” could be signaling to a large number of potentially loyal customers that “this isn’t for you.”

Ade Hassan is the founder of Nubian Skin, a company that specializes in lingerie and hosiery for women of color. Here she is explaining to me how being told “this isn’t for you” one too many times compelled her to start her company.

For the visual learners like me, here’s what comes up on Amazon when you type in nude hosiery:

Nude stockings on Amazon

Here’s what those “nude” stockings look like on a woman of color like me (just to be sure we’re all on the same page – this ain’t cute!):

IMG 5861

And here is the hosiery that Nubian Skin sells, with a range of nudes for women of color:

Nude means nude

When your buyer personas exclude customers you didn’t intend to, those very customers go off in search of other companies who acknowledge their needs and serve them.

“You get a car! You get a car! And you get a car!”

Buyer personas are a powerful marketing tool. But like with any tool, their ability to help or hinder your business is only as good as 1) the inputs that go into it and 2) how you use it.

Even though far too many personas unintentionally exclude, there are plenty of smart marketers who’ve done an excellent job of using personas to include more of their ideal customers.Even though the homophily principle implies that many people are limited in their consideration of others because their circles are largely similar, there is other research that showcases the ways in which the homophily phenomenon can be overcome – ways that can help you be more inclusive in your marketing: openness and empathy.

A 2017 study of more than 12,000 British households found that the personality trait of openness caused respondents to be more likely to have friends who lived farther away, were of the opposite sex and were of another ethnicity.

Professors at the Universities of Iowa and Toronto authored a New York Times article where they argued that empathy is a choice:

While we concede that the exercise of empathy is, in practice, often far too limited in scope, we dispute the idea that this shortcoming is inherent, a permanent flaw in the emotion itself. Inspired by a competing body of recent research, we believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.”

In it, they cited various research studies that show that empathy is lessened for people who are different from us, particularly those who are of different races, nationalities and creeds.

When you treat your customers as your friends, it becomes easier to make sure your friends are taken care of. Openness and empathy are woven into how you treat each other.

When you think of your customers and the relationship you have with them, the focus isn’t on how they are different and how that might inconvenience you. It’s on making sure that you do what you need to do to include them in whatever it is you’re doing.

It is important to note that inclusivity isn’t always about accommodating differences that may require a different approach to your products and services.

At times it’s just about refocusing your targeting efforts to welcome customers who could be loyalists to your brand, if introduced to your product and consistently engaged in a relevant manner.

The craft beer market is starting to embrace this concept. According to a New York Times report, the industry is looking beyond “young white dudes with beards” as a means to bolster slowing sales growth. As a result of their openness in recent years, the Brewers Association hired a diversity ambassador and has established a set of guidelines and resources to assist brewers in making their brands more inclusive. They are making progress as consumption of craft beer among women, African-American, Native American, and Hispanics are on the rise.

3 ways to know if your personas are a repellant for loyal customers

Your customers leave you clues that help you figure out whether or not they like what you’re doing. And because the topics of diversity, inclusion and belonging can still be touchy for folks, the good news is you can use cold hard data as your guide when it comes to assessing your brand.

Here are three sources to turn to for insight.

One: Evaluate if your customers are representative of the population

Ideally, your customers should be reflective of the population that fits within the demographic of your buyer persona. If 85% of your customers are women and 50% of the people who check all the boxes for the characteristics you describe in your persona are men, that’s a signal that something about your marketing doesn’t make men feel like they belong.

Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried used this approach to identify that the company needed to diversify their team. He penned an article that declared his company’s quest to become more representative of the customers they serve:

Basecamp is approaching its 18th year in business, and for most of those years we’ve been mostly male and mostly white. We’re not proud of that.

We weren’t almost entirely male and white because we wanted to be. We simply kept doing what we’d always been doing: hiring people just like us. So we ended up with a lot of white guys.

I have nothing against white guys, but white guys don’t reflect the world at large or our customer base. I believe a company is at its best when it reflects those it serves. If you fill a room with 20 random employees and 20 random customers, an outside observer should have trouble telling them apart.”

When planning for the INBOUND conference in 2018, organizers noted that 65% of their attendees were female. So the team made a point to ensure that the speakers on the stage were representative of who would be in the audience.

Laura Moran, the Content & Talent Team Manager for the conference, told Forbes why they made representation a priority:

We want to make sure that we’re putting together a lineup that is representative of the people who are coming, and anecdotally we’ve seen that if we make an effort to create diversity on the stages, we see more diversity in our attendees as well.”

When you put in the effort to make inclusion a priority, you’ll start to notice you’ll attract a broader number of customers.


Make inclusion a priority in your marketing, and attract a broader number of customers, says…
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Two: Note high attrition rates of specific groups of customers

Last year I worked with a marketing team at a pharmaceutical company on their African-American engagement strategy. As we were looking at the data, we recognized that, of all ethnic groups, African-Americans:

  • had the lowest satisfaction with the product,
  • stayed on it the least amount of time, and
  • had the lowest emotional connection with the brand.

This data was telling because of this important point: African-Americans had a higher prevalence rate of the disease state the brand treated, in comparison to other patient populations. So why did African-Americans have higher rates of attrition?

After a quick look at their marketing, it was clear why. Few attempts had been made to serve the audience in a manner that was relevant to them. And when they did try, the attempts were superficial, which had the opposite impact of what the brand wanted.

As you look through data on your customers, assess whether or not there are certain customers who are more likely than others to stop using your products and services. It could be a clear signal that they don’t feel like they belong.

Three: Pay attention to customer feedback

Consider comments from frustrated customers a gift. The majority of unsatisfied customers will just leave without saying a word.

Sometimes the ones who do speak up will give you their feedback about inclusion in the form of public rebukes, like many conference goers have taken to doing when the speaker line-up isn’t representative.

manel

And other times, they’ll give it to you directly to help you better serve them.

Here’s Ade Hassan again from Nubian Skin talking about how she discovered her brand was leaving out an entire segment of customers.

How to build inclusive buyer personas (that attract more of the customers you want)

After going through and assessing whether or not your brand is excluding customers you don’t intend to, the fix is quite simple:

Construct buyer personas that are more inclusive. (HubSpot has this handy tool for creating personas.)

Here are four steps to help you create personas that include the customers you want to serve, and intentionally excludes of the ones you don’t.

One: Make a list of all the different types of people who have the problem your business solves

Let’s say you have a SaaS tool that you’re preparing to launch. Once you’ve got a handle on the behavioral and psychographic characteristics of the customers you want to serve, next identify the demographic differences that could be present among the people who could benefit from your service.

Here’s a sample list:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Geography
  • Language
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Education level
  • Family status
  • Marital status
  • Weight
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Physical disability
  • Weight
  • Dietary restrictions

Having a full view of all the ways your customers could have differences can help you assess whether or not those differences impact their ability to use your product or connect with your brand effectively.

Two: Intentionally declare who you want to exclude

You can’t serve everyone. Nor should you. So as you’re going through figuring out who your brand is for, take some time to get clear about who you don’t want to serve, while thinking with openness and empathy. For that SaaS product, perhaps you’ll choose only to serve customers who have proficiency in English or your native language.

Note that just because you decide to exclude a group of customers at one point in time doesn’t mean you can’t serve them in the future. When I first started coming to Argentina in 2014, I had to adjust to the businesses that did not serve customers unless they paid with cash. Now some of those same businesses accept credit cards, but only those that come from Argentine banks.

Three: Evaluate if you need to create multiple personas

Plenty of brands operate with multiple buyer personas. As you determine the various customers you want your brand to serve, assess whether or not you’ll need to craft multiples.

As you go through your list of ways your customers are different, it may become clear that there are certain customers in which you’ll have to tailor your approach to serve them effectively.

A simple way to figure out whether or not you need a separate persona for a particular customer group is by asking the following question:

“How would our execution of marketing to our persona change if this person was [fill in a demographic difference].”

For that SaaS product, if you wanted to reach millennials, the channels you use to reach your customers may need to be different than the ones you would use to reach Baby Boomers or even Gen X. The cultural references in your copy or the testimonials you use may need to be adjusted.

Sometimes the answer isn’t an entirely new persona; it’s just making slight tweaks in your existing promotions to be more inclusive. For instance, some companies have opted for gender-neutral iconography, like the animals Google uses within Docs.

Kevin Curry of Fit Men Cook uses inclusion marketing to reach Spanish speakers. All his videos have Spanish copy underneath the English. He does the same for his Instagram posts.

FitMen Cook Spanish

And on his website, there’s an option for people to go to a Spanish version of his site.

FitMen Cook website

Back to that SaaS product as an example, you may find that although you have chosen to serve an English speaking audience, they still may be located in countries around the world that have differences that need to be considered.

Preferences around:

  • the use of a 24-hour clock vs. a 12-hour one,
  • the way dates are written in the numerical form (is January 6 written as 1/6/2019 or 6/1/2019?),
  • time zones,
  • currency,
  • holiday support schedules, and
  • measuring and weight systems – they all matter.

These are all nuances you can be solve for, with proper forethought.

Four: Identify whether focusing your efforts on one group of customers can help you win a larger group

I’m all for the efficient use of resources. And for many brands on a tight budget, creating separate marketing campaigns for multiple personas isn’t something they can do at the moment.

One way the some brands have gotten around this problem is by identifying certain groups as their lead customers for a campaign.


Not able to speak to every persona? Try assigning a ‘lead persona’ for each campaign, says…
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Several brands – including Ford, General Mills and McDonald’s – have at times made African-Americans their lead consumer.

Here’s the former CMO of General Mills explaining to Advertising Age why this approach made sense for them:

My advice to marketers seeking to connect with African-American consumers is to think of them as lead consumers to influence your market. You can start to market their ideas to the general market; they can influence an entire campaign if you get close to them. Although they represent 12 to 13% of consumers, their influence on consumption can be much bigger than that. You can do brand campaigns with African-Americans at their heart that can drive the entire business.”

An additional reason on why this approach works well is that the groups that get ignored with mainstream marketing appreciate it when brands take the time to speak to them directly.

Michael Smith, the Senior Vice President and General Manager at Scripps Network, which has brands such as The Food Network and HGTV, gave this insight:

According to research we have seen over the years, if you make something with an all-White cast, a White audience won’t notice it. But a minority audience will notice it… And if you make something that has a significant presence of minority characters or a minority host, White audiences don’t notice that either. … But audience members of color will really feel good about it.” 

It’s time for your business to start making some new friends:
how will you move forward with inclusive buyer personas?

Your growth depends on inclusive buyer personas, strategically created. Your relevance depends on it.

And the customers who have the problem your business solves are waiting for you to show up.

Your marketing either includes or excludes. There is no in between.

Be intentional about declaring the customers you don’t want to serve. Then get busy figuring out how to be a good friend to the ones you do. Especially the ones who aren’t quite like you.

~sonia

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I’ve Helped Create 150+ Case Studies. Here’s (Almost) Everything I’ve Learned.

FLAMING HOT TAKE ALERT: creating case studies is like flossing.

(The dental hygiene version, not that idiotic dance kids are into these days.)

Everybody knows they should be doing it. Almost nobody does. And when they finally do, it’s a painful, bloody, but oddly rewarding experience that has them vowing to do it again soon.

Because it just so happens that case studies are the single most powerful sales asset you can possibly have.

And I’m not exaggerating.

“Bold Claim, Klettke. Can You Back it Up?”

Abso-friggin-lutely.

Let’s start with the psychology behind what makes case studies burrow into our brains and influence our decision-making in ways other content can’t:

1. Stories turn our brains into super-happy chemical soup.

Cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger found that reading (or hearing) words and sentences that refer to bodily actions actually activates the motor cortex in your brain.

So, for example, “she kicks the ball” just lit up the part of your brain that controls your leg movements. But it’s not just your motor cortex. 

In a fascinating Spanish study, researchers were able to show that odour-related words, like “garlic” and “cinnamon”, light up the olfactory cortex (your sense of smell).

This is a lot of science-speak to say: your brain responds to reading (or hearing) about an event through a story in roughly the same way it would if you were to actually experience the event in real life. That’s a whole lot of empathy being built up in the mind of your reader.

Not only that: storytelling, done right, can literally influence the chemicals in your brain.

During a talk at CXL Live 2019, Dr. Brian Cugelman of AlterSpark explained that a good editorial hook can increase your dopamine levels, which gives you an emotional reward that temporarily makes you feel energized and curious. In addition, using a story to describe a threat can boost your cortisol levels, which grabs your attention and drives you to remove the pain or threat, real or perceived, ASAP.

And even just reading about goals and challenges can spike serotonin levels, which triggers the pursuit of goals and loss avoidance.

2. Stories are memorable by design.  

When it comes to marketing, being forgotten is death. That’s where customer success stories curb stomp other content.

According to Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, a story is up to 22x more memorable than facts alone. Done well, case studies are stories that help you stay top-of-mind and sell at the same time.

A story is up to 22x more memorable than facts alone.

jennifer aaker, stanford

3. Stories appeal to both the rational and emotional parts of the brain.

According to Dual Process Theory, there are two systems at work in the human brain: system one is fast and emotional, and system two is slow and rational. System one is always on, while system two requires focus and gets quickly depleted.

The bad news is that the majority of our decisions are made by system one.

While we’d all like to think of ourselves as logical people living in a logical world, but we’re actually instinctual people who rationalize our emotional decisions after the fact.

The tension, emotion, and cold hard facts in well-written case studies appeal to both systems—a killer one-two punch that ensures you’re covered no matter which system is taking the lead at the moment.

4. Customer success stories replicate word of mouth marketing.

Reviews, case studies, and other voice of customer content mimic the effects of word of mouth—and word of mouth is super-mega-important to the modern buyer’s journey.

BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review 2018 Survey found that 86% of buyers read reviews for local businesses. In fact, buyers read an average of ten online reviews before they even feel able to trust a local business.

But here’s the kicker: 91% of respondents under 35 trust online content as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.

“Nice Theory. But Does It Work in Real Life?”

Yep. The numbers are there, too.

Studies show that not only do buyers actively seek out case study content, they also spend more time engaging with it compared to other types of B2B content.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, case studies remain the preferred content format among B2B buyers, with 79% of respondents claiming they’ve consumed this type of content in the last year.

And in a study of 34 million (yes, million) interactions between buyers and content, Harvard Business Review found that case studies had an 83% completion rate, orders of magnitude higher than any other type of sales or marketing content.

The case for case studies (ha!) grows even stronger when you realize B2B buyers aren’t just more likely to read case studies—but much more likely to share them as well.

According to Demand Gen Report’s 2018 Content Preferences Survey, 64% of respondents share case studies with colleagues, which is second only to blog posts (74%).

64% of respondents share case studies with colleagues, which is second only to blog posts (74%).

Demand Gen 2018 report

That’s a HUGE deal, because so many business decisions (especially on SaaS platforms) are made jointly by people in different roles. Harvard Business Review found that the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases climbed from an average of 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017.

It’s no wonder, then, that the vast majority (73%) of content B2B marketers surveyed by Content Marketing Institute in 2018 said they use case studies for content marketing purposes. 47% said case studies were among their top three most effective types of content marketing when it comes to achieving specific objectives, a very close second to eBooks and whitepapers (50%).

Take Rankings.io, for example:

Adding case studies into their sales and marketing mix helped them close over $175,000 worth of deals in one month. Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO, says:

“We closed over 179,444 worth of deals in the past month, and case studies helped close them all. If you’re trying to improve your conversions and showcase your expertise, you need case studies. Case studies are powerful lead magnets, they’re powerful presentations, and they’re great for sales.”

And (BONUS!) as we’ll dive into later on, case studies are also one of the only content assets that can be used across your entire funnel, and even reused time and time again.

But if case studies are so great, then why isn’t everyone investing heavily in them?

The truth is that getting case studies right is difficult and time-consuming. It’s a heck of a lot harder than just plugging in a “Problem, Solution, Results” rubric.

And when you have a million ecommerce orders to fulfill or you’re deep into rewriting your SaaS onboarding flow, it’s easy for case studies to start looking like a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.”

Thankfully, I’m here to help. After more than three years of running Case Study Buddy, I’ve been part of putting together over 150 studies for clients ranging from enterprise SaaS companies to Fortune 100 clients I can’t even name without being sent to jail.

And I’m about to hand you YEARS of knowledge I’ve picked up the hard way.

How to Get Case Studies Right—the First Time

Getting case studies right the first time around comes down to five way-too-easy sounding steps:

  1. Define your strategy
  2. Choose the right candidates
  3. Run a great interview
  4. Write up the story
  5. Put your case studies to work(strategically!)

Defining Your Strategy

Before investing a ton of time and money into creating a case study, you need to get really clear about why you’re doing this in the first place.

Otherwise, you risk wasting hours of time and energy capturing stories that won’t ever help you accomplish your goals. Start by asking yourself three questions:

  1. What’s my end goal?
    Maybe you’re trying to launch a specific service, promote a specific product or appeal to a specific industry.

    The stories you tell need to align with that goal.

  2. Who am I targeting?
    Which types of buyers are you trying to attract with your case study? Do they have a specific role, or work in a certain industry?

    The people you profile should look like the people you’re trying to attract.

  3. How will I use the case study?
    Where in the sales and marketing processes will you plug in this case study? How will you reuse different elements of the case study?

    Your use case will influence the way you go about capturing and telling the story (more on that later!)

As a quick example, conversion copywriter Kira Hug was keen to do case studies. With a ton of happy clients, she could’ve chosen any of them to feature.

But Kira stopped and defined her goal. She wanted to use case studies to attract more clients looking for help launching products and courses.

While a success story about one of her SaaS clients would’ve made her look great, it wouldn’t have helped her achieve that goal.

So instead, she approached Rick Mulready to capture a story that would support her goal.

Choosing the Right Candidates

In the example above, Rick was the obvious choice. But how do you find willing candidates and get them on board once you’ve got your strategy in place?

The first step is identifying candidates who have a strong positive affinity towards you. These three approaches to be the simplest:

  1. Send out a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey.
    Isolate all those who responded with eight or higher and reach out to them to gauge their participation interest.
  2. Mine existing customer reviews online.
    Look for places where your advocates have already invested their time to sing your praises—whether that’s on G2Crowd, Capterra, Amazon, your ecommerce comments section, social media, reddit… you get the point.

    Find the most detailed reviews and reach out to the authors.

  3. Send out an in-depth survey.
    If you want to take it a step further and capture more details right off the hop, a full survey is also an option.

    If you go this route, keep in mind that your goal is to turn your customers into storytellers, not butt-kissers. Ask them experience-based questions such as…

    • What was going on in your life that sent you looking for a solution like ours?
    • What does success look like for you?
    • How has our [service/product] helped you achieve that success?
    • Which features or benefits do you like best about [working with us/using our product]?

“How do I get buy-in?”

Finding viable candidates is only the beginning. Now you need to convince them to do you a favor and go on the record. It’s arguably the hardest part of doing a case study—and the reason many companies quit before they even begin.

Don’t.

Realize that almost every rejection boils down to three factors, all of which you have an opportunity to counter:

1. Uncertainty.

Clients may say “no” because they’re uncertain about what will be exposed and how they will be presented. The best way to counter this is to give them control.

Often, countering this objection is as simple as assuring them that nothing will be published without their review and full consent.

Another powerful countermove is to show them examples of other studies (yours or someone else’s) that mimic what the end product would look like.

2. Inconvenience.


People are busy! Some won’t want to take part in a case study because they assume it’ll take hours of their time.

To counter this, make sure your client knows that the entire process will take less than an hour of their time, and spell out exactly what you’re asking them to do.

3. Selfishness.

“What’s in it for me?” is a common response when you ask someone for their time, which means you’ll need to frame the case study as something that benefits both sides.

For example, you might share how big the audience you’ll share the study with is, or emphasize that you’ll be linking to them from your site.

“How Do I Make the Ask?

Keep it short and simple. This email template has worked wonders for me, and you can use something very similar on a live call:

“We’re so excited that you’ve (achieved a result) with our (product or service). We want to showcase the good stuff you’re doing—to show people what you’ve accomplished in your space. We’d love to schedule a time to interview you for a case study.

You will always have the final say. Nothing will be published without your approval. All we need is 30 minutes of your time. And we’ll make sure you look like a rock star.

We’d like to get this case study published at the end of next month. Can we count you in?”

Running a Great Interview

Congrats! You’ve found the perfect candidate and they’ve given you an enthusiastic yes.

Now it’s time to get them on a call (or a video chat) and capture their story.

1. Prep your questions.
Before your call, craft a list of interview questions you KNOW will help you capture the core elements of the story.

Open-ended questions are ideal, because “yes/no” questions require absolutely no elaboration (and thus, no storytelling!)

I like to use the “BDA” (before, during, after) format to get to the heart of the interviewee’s experience and story:

Before: What were they feeling before purchasing from you?

During: What were they feeling during the purchase process?

After: What were they feeling immediately after? How about six weeks after?

This line of questioning encourages your interviewee to walk through each stage of the process step-by-step instead of spewing out platitudes.

You might ask, for example:

  • What does success look like for you?
  • What was going on in your business when you purchased [service/product]?
  • Most valuable thing [service/product] brings to the table, and why?
  • What results have you seen because of [service/product]?

Before the big interview day arrives, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Limit the number of interviewees to two.
    And honestly? One is even better. The more people you have on a call, the more they’ll talk over each other. Worse, you may lose juicy details because an individual may feel less confident being candid with someone else listening in.  
  2. Test your tech ahead of time.
    Microphones, cameras, recording software… make sure it all works, and make sure you have a backup plan if it doesn’t!

    You don’t get a mulligan on this: clients are only willing to do you so many favors.

  3. Prepare a list of questions early and send it to the interviewee in advance.
    The more comfortable and prepared your lead feels going in, the easier they’ll be to get details out of. Nothing sucks more than asking about their ROI and hearing “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

    Spoiler alert: they won’t.

  4. Record the call.
    You’ll want to review the call later on, even if you take light notes live. Frantically jotting down notes doesn’t make for a very human conversation.
  5. Follow up for more details if necessary.
    There’s a good chance your interviewee won’t remember specific dates and numbers, for example.

95% of your job is listening and asking “why?”
You’re not there to talk – you’re there to listen and probe. It’s fine to ask the same question multiple times or investigate another angle—sometimes, clients are grateful to be asked again because they’ll remember new information.

How I Write a Powerful Case Study

First, the basics: just like every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, case studies should all follow more or less the same flow:a headline, a challenge, a solution, the results, and a call to action (CTA).

I’m going to rip apart an example case study from Case Study Buddy client Pillar, a construction data company that provides risk management technology.

(Phew! Is it just me, or did it just get vulnerable in here?)

The Headline

What It (Really) Is
The headline is the pillar (get it?) of your cover page, but it’s also the snippet you’ll lead with when sharing your study on your site, in ads, on your blog, and so on.

The headline has exactly ONE job: getting people curious enough to keep reading.

How to Do It Right
A great case study headline draws your leads in immediately by leveraging one (or all) of the following:

  • A company they recognize or relate to
  • A pain they’re intimately familiar with
  • A result they desperately want to replicate

Here are some headline formulas that work well (in our experience):

  • How [service/company] helped [client] [result]
  • [Result] for [client]
  • [Client] gets [result] with [service]
  • How [client] eliminated [pain] with [service]

When in doubt, keep your headline simple and direct. Avoid jargon, complicated words, and creative adjectives.

Use metrics whenever possible. In Pillar’s case, “a 30 Million Dollar Fire” emphasizes the costly impact of not having risk management in place.

If you don’t have any big, sexy metrics to use, leverage the headline to highlight a relatable challenge or pain point instead.

joel klettke, case study buddy

If you don’t have any big, sexy metrics to use, leverage the headline to highlight a relatable challenge or pain point instead. For example, take a peek at this headline for Looop, a SaaS in the employee learning space.  
Even though their study HAS great metrics, none of them were universal enough to appeal to the diversity of leads Looop would be sending the study to.

Instead, we chose to use the headline to address the shared pain point we knew all leads would have:

On the opposite end of things, here’s an example of a time we completely dropped the ball in the headline department for Elucidat, another great SaaS in the employee learning niche:

I mean, really? “[Company]: An Elucidat Case Study?”

Booooo.

At the time we thought this would throw the big, bright light on the impressive metrics below the headline. Instead, the case study hits like a wet noodle. Who’s going to want to keep reading?

If I could step back in time, here’s how I’d fix it:

The most important metric there (according to Elucidat prospects) is the 95% increase in efficiency, so I might write:

“How Integrity Inc. Increased Training Efficiency a Shocking 95%”

Juicy, right? Much better than the barf-worthy headline we rolled with. Live ‘n’ learn.

One last tip for case study headlines: add immediate credibility, weight and intrigue by including a direct quote from the interviewee on the cover page that talks about the same result or pain in the headline.

The Challenge

What It (Really) Is

The “Challenge” section is the place where your story either takes off like a rocket, or falls flat on its face.

In this section, you introduce the hero of the story—your client—and the problem they were facing in a way that gets your reader to care about what happens in the end.

How to Do It Right

To suck your leads into the story, your “Challenge” section should jump right into the action, set the stakes and build tension to get them emotionally involved. For example, note the study introduction in the Pillar example above:

“At 2 AM on February 3 2017, a new 200-unit community in Maplewood, New Jersey burned down. AvalonBay had been only weeks away from turning over the first phase of apartments, and in one night their 18 months of progress had been reduced to nothing.”

This could have easily read: “A fire broke out at AvalonBay’s construction site,” or “AvalonBay is a blah blah blah zzzzzzzz…”

Instead, you’re brought on an emotional journey. AvalonBay was careful and compliant, but disaster still struck. In less than 12 hours, 18 months of construction work disappeared.

As you build tension and raise the stakes, be sure to highlight core pain points that readers will identify with to make the story feel personal—like it could be about them.

AvalonBay’s disappointment and loss is almost tangible, even in just a few short paragraphs.

The Solution

What It (Really) Is

The “Solution” section is where you explore exactly how the hero’s pain got solved. Your job in this section is to help the reader experience the relief, security, and confidence that the actual customer experienced in having their problem solved.

How to Do It Right
Start with this: Don’t just focus on the how, include the why.

Why did you do things this way instead of that way?

What was the thinking behind your approach?

For example, Pillar doesn’t just say they installed intelligent sensors, they elaborate on the why:

[…] designed to survive harsh construction site working conditions and don’t require users to manually check each sensor”.

For SaaS and ecommerce companies, this means going beyond mentioning the features or elements of a product the client liked and instead tying them to the actions and outcomes a lead could use them for.

As an example, check out this snippet from a study for PracticeIgnition, a SaaS that helps companies send proposals and manage the payment process:

Every time a feature is mentioned, it’s tied back to an outcome or task for the client.

And if something went wrong, be open about it.

You won’t find that in the Pillar or PracticeIgnition examples above, but consider ecommerce reviews. Being open about a product needing to be returned or exchanged, for example, highlights trustworthiness and customer care.

In real life, solutions don’t always go smoothly. People have to adjust. Changes have to be made. For example, your case study might acknowledge if your product had a steep learning curve for the client—before highlighting how you stepped in to help them out.

Authenticity goes a long way for both trustworthiness and likability. For that reason, Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center and PowerReviews found that, in moderation, bad reviews actually help boost sales.

The Results

What It (Really) Is

The “Results” section usually gets treated like a success metric dumping ground. Here’s a metric! There’s a metric! Look at all this success!

Huge mistake. The real job of the “Results” section is to wrap up the story and not only share the happy ending, but what that happy ending actually meant for the hero of the story.

How to Do It Right

When recording the results, there are a couple guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Talk about the “ROI” and the “RO-Why-That’s-Important.”
    Terrible, I know. But so, SO crucial. Pillar, for example, highlights the direct impact on Head of Safety, Jeff’s mental well-being:

    “Jeff sleeps better at night knowing that AvalonBay now has preventative measures in place to stop future setbacks.”

That human impact goes a long way and serves the narrative of the story best.

Give the reader a reason to give a crap.
AvalonBay’s story certainly tugs at your emotions, but some readers will still be thinking, “Not my fire, not my problem. I’ve never experienced a disaster.” That’s why the final quote in this section makes such an impact:

“There were 18 large construction fires in 2017—$480 million in losses. In 2018, there have already been eight fires and two fatalities. It shouldn’t take a disaster to get us to adopt an advance warning system.”

The Call to Action

The most important thing about your call to action (CTA) section is simply that you have one. You should always end on a CTA that relates back to the story you’ve told and the specific challenge you’ve addressed. It’s enough to clearly and directly reiterate those elements and then introduce a logical next step.

(Key word being “logical”. If you’re using your case study at the bottom of the funnel, your CTA might be very different than if you’re using your case study at the top of the funnel. You may want to create different CTAs to use, depending on the context.)

How long should a case study be?

I’ve published studies ranging from 450 to 4,500+ words.

But is one length the “right” length? Get ready to be momentarily frustrated because the answer is the dreaded “it depends.”

DocSend’s content completion rate study found that case studies between two and five pages had the best completion rates. Helpful intel, sure. But that’s still a HUGE range.

To narrow things down, stop fishing for a magic word count and focus on two things:

  • How you plan to share the study, and
  • The reader’s context at the time.

If you plan to send your case study attached to an RFP, for example, shorter is better as the lead already has a pile of information to sort through.

The same typically applies for situations where your lead is new to you: cold emails, ads, in-person sales pitches, and so on.

Longer studies are incredibly useful for situations where a lead is primed for detail: in your blog, sent as a newsletter, printed out as a meeting leave-behind, and so on.

And the best part is, you can use shorter formats as teasers to prime a lead to read the longer variant.

Use case and context should determine length—not some fancy magic number from a study.

Longer studies are incredibly useful for situations where a lead is primed for detail: in your blog, sent as a newsletter, printed out as a meeting leave-behind, and so on.

Joel klettke, case study buddy

Putting your case study to work

Done right, your case study has taken you a lot of time and effort to put together. That’s why it’s important to use your new piece of content strategically and squeeze out all of the value you possibly can.

There are two primary ways to do this:

  1. Recycle, recycle, recycle.
  2. Use your case study throughout the entire funnel.

At Case Study Buddy, we use the “Bite, Snack, Meal” model to repurpose case studies for multiple uses.

A bite usually takes the form of a slide deck, which is perfect for sharing on social media or during a pitch meeting. The focus here is compelling quotes, impressive metrics and high-level insights at a glance.

You could also consider a lone testimonial pulled out of the interview a “bite” (or a nibble!)

A snack is a short-form case study, much like the Pillar example we looked at above. There’s room to tell the bigger story, but the format is still somewhat condensed and lacks elaboration. Snacks are ideal for onboarding flows and boost your credibility in cold outreach, for example.

A meal is a long-form case study. The Pillar example we looked at above was just four pages. The long-form version of the same case study extends to eight pages. This is the version you’d put up on your website for the world to see. It includes elaboration, the finer details, more quotes, etc.

Depending on your industry, funnel and revenue model, you will use each of these assets at different times. What’s important is that you have recycled the content to fit different levels of intent and different mediums of distribution.

Off the top of my head, here are no less than 20 different ways a SaaS or ecommerce company could put their case studies to use:

  • Pull client quotes into on-site testimonial
  • Bake a story into your cold email outreach
  • Share your wins as organic social media content
  • Leverage the success metrics in paid social media ads
  • Add quotes or metrics to your pitch deck
  • Publish the study in your blog
  • Use the full study as a downloadable lead magnet
  • Write up a Q&A style blog post based on the interview
  • Train your staff using real-world examples of why people love you
  • Hand out printed versions at conferences and trade shows
  • Add a link to your business card for networking events
  • Create a slide deck for talks or in-person meetings
  • Add a link to your email signature
  • Send them to leads as part of your onboarding sequence
  • Use notable outcomes as email subject lines
  • Give them to your sales team
  • Turn them into a video
  • Put testimonials near points of friction, like pricing
  • Win back lapsed leads or churned users with fresh stories
  • Upsell existing customers

…and we’re just getting started! Remember, these assets work across the ENTIRE funnel.

Take Pingboard, for example.

Initially, they weren’t sold on case studies, but after one test trial with Case Study Buddy, Pingboard became a believer. Now they collect one to two new case studies almost every month, and recycle those case studies again and again.

“There’s more than one way we get value from these case studies: They’re sales tools, marketing tools, brand tools, and even tools for new hires,” says Cameron Nouri, Director of Growth at Pingboard.

Today, their sales team uses case studies to explain how they can help to new prospects. Their marketing team has chunked out sound bites and testimonials, which they share via Twitter. Their blog team uses case studies to share real-life lessons and examples from buyer interviews.

The utility is near endless, and the content is evergreen!

You’ve just been handed a SHWACK of my best stuff.

The science is good. The stats are there to prove it. The process is sitting right in front of you.

But just like flossing, you can only be told it’s “good for you” or “essential so that your teeth don’t fall out of your skull” so many times. In the end, it’s up to you.

~joel

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How to Engage Instagram Followers with Copy So They Love Your Brand and Buy Your Products

I remember when Instagram was yay high. When we were just kids posting filtered photos of street graffiti.

That all changed when I signed on as YOGABODY’S in-house copywriter.

The company’s Facebook game was on point, but we wanted to give it a bigger go at selling our products on Instagram, too.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean to say I can’t just use pictures of fit yoga women and the quote “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and call it a day? 

Not anymore. That’s right… Instagram is straight grown.

Oh, they grow up so fast.

To boot, its users aren’t preteens just handing out those red-hearted likes like candy on Halloween night anymore. They’re also… shopping. 

Instagram users spend $65 on average per purchase (more than on Facebook), and the ‘gram has seen a 115% increase in engagement since 2012.

What does that mean for your eCommerce business?

Instagram captions perform better
when they use conversion copy techniques.

The copy is the difference between a follower (who likes your photos) and a customer (who buys your products). 

Images may grab the reader’s attention as they endlessly scroll, but according to Instagram’s algorithm, posts that get activity (likes, comments, shares and tags) are seen as valuable and therefore are promoted beyond your feed.

Your Instagram caption—AKA copy (we’ll use these terms interchangeably for this article)—engages your new followers with your brand, which leads to conversions and sales.

Take Glossier for example. Vogue staffer, Emily Weiss, took her lifestyle and beauty blog and spun it into a hugely popular Instagram account where she then launched her beauty line, Glossier. The account now has over 2 million followers and an eCommerce company valued at a billion dollars.

In this in-depth look by Sked Social at Glossier’s Instagram marketing strategy, we see that its posts sometimes hit a 10% engagement rate, immensely overshadowing the average rate of 3%. “They’re knocking it out of the park,” writes Kat Boogard. She says:

“They didn’t fall into the common trap of so many companies where social media was an afterthought—they were proactive about it from the get-go. In fact, Glossier’s account had attracted 13,000 Instagram followers before any products were even launched on the brand’s e-commerce site.”

Sked Social’s Kat Boogard

You can still grow your Instagram using great copy even if you don’t have the cult-like following of Emily Weiss.

Let’s look at clever captions that make you likeable.

Instagram gives you 2,200 characters to play with in a caption. 

That’s a lot. That’s like a miniature sales page!

While you may have roughly 300 words, not all of them will display in your follower’s feed. Instagram truncates your caption.

That’s why it’s vital to plan those first 2 (mobile) to 3 (desktop) lines with care to not get cut off at an inopportune moment.

Unlike Kanye, Instagram does this with your best interests in mind. They do it to not clog up the feed. Here’s what the max may look like (outlined in red):

Dermstore, which sells professional-strength beauty products online, uses this bite-sized moment to highlight their subscription box service. This is a perfect example of getting your readers to nod their heads in an enthusiastic “yes” to your question. That’s always good copy… even in an Instagram post. 

The gold standard: write 125 meaningful characters before the “More…” shows up. 

There’s truly so much you can do with that. 

Like use it as a way to update your followers about re-stocks.

Mention a sale.

Or use a pop culture reference.

Hey… if Joann Stores (formerly known as Joann Fabrics)—you know, the ones you associate with your elderly neighbor who knit you a scarf that one time for Christmas—can trendy-up, so can you.

Again, Instagram rewards posts with tons of comments and likes by sending them beyond the wall—ahem, beyond your feed. So not EVERY post has to be sale-slash- product-oriented. 

But how do I do all that without a big budget? 

Glad you asked…

Post user-generated content.

Here’s the thing: 

Instagram users love to crowdsource their content. 

So how do you take advantage of that? 

For starters, you can repost what others have said about you (hello, Voice of Customer data!)—or—this could mean asking influencers and customers to post about YOUR products directly.

For copywriting’s sake, you’ll want to focus on simply reposting user-generated content: show off your customers showing off your products, just like in the GoT example above. 

  1. Someone creates something amazing using your product. 
  2. You see their post. 
  3. You post their post. #repost

It leads to a feel-good trust factor from your fans. And your audience gets to see what your product looks like in a real-life sitch. 

Here’s an example from @yogabody. We shared a native post from a Yoga Trapeze user (a YOGABODY product). 

I always carve out some time to scour through native posts looking for something I could use—essentially gold-mining.

If the original caption includes a positive comment about our product… YOINK!

This is a golden opportunity to post a customer review directly in your feed, so your audience gets a quick bite of a real review that also feels super genuine.

If your product isn’t talked about (yet), you can #regram someone within your realm.

Dermstore uses an original caption that shows their voice, followed by a quick mention of the user’s photo (for proper cred). 

The upside is possibly getting on that special someone’s radar. The downside: it may look as if you can’t create your own content. Use this tactic very sparingly.

Here’s how to #regram:

For photos, you can do this manually.

  1. Take a screenshot of the photo you want to regram.
  2. Use the photo editor on your phone to crop everything but the picture.
  3. Share to Instagram.
  4. Add a unique caption and @tag the original user in the post.

For videos, you’ll need a reposting app. I recommend SkedSocial.

To emoji or not to emoji?

I won’t keep you waiting… 

The answer is…

YES! They’re a quick way to show you’re human. That you’re a clever human. That you’re a trendy, clever human behind the caption. Not at aaaall a copywriter/business person sweating over which emoji to use and where. And what’s this eggplant one and why is it so popular? And oh god how do I emoji?!????

I gotchu. Here’s an app where you can urban dictionary the straight heck out of those little hieroglyphics beforehand just so you don’t make a blunder by accident. Or simply see which emojis are trending so you can have up-to-date lookin’ copy. Because it really matters.

To be honest, emojis are also great for breaking up text, spicing up your copy visually and saying things with fewer words. Here, Glossier uses a down arrow to mean “post your answer in the comments.”

Also, instead of saying “click here,” you could post a pointing finger emoji instead. Here are some ideas of common Instagram copy in emoji form:

☝ Click the link above / check link in bio

👉 Here’s the link

👇 Check the link below / Leave your comment down below

🙏 We are grateful / We love it!

🔥 Hot sale

🚨 New sale / Important 

💣 / ⚠ time-sensitive sale

💯 The best deal around / We agree!

📷 This photo was taken by:  / Photo cred to:

💬 ⬇ This asks the audience to leave a comment

✔ Use this to separate new points

But more than that, they actually stimulate a feel-good response from readers which, say it with me folks, creates engagement

An engaged audience will read a full (300-word) caption.

As people spend less time on desktop reading and an average of 53 minutes per day on Instagram, that means it’s possible to deliver information to them on their favorite social platform.

Here’s how you can do it in a way that makes sense for your business:

Show the benefits of your product. 

The Honest Company, founded and run by none other than the Jessica Alba, specializes in ingredient-safe baby products made from renewable resources. They highlight their Organic Belly Balm in this post via photo and loootsss of text. 

Tell a story through case studies or other narratives.

You can try in the third person as @honest does here:

Or interview customers and post their story in the first person:

Real human stories like these are 22x more memorable than facts.

Post an update on the company (or other really valuable information).

By now you may be thinking… yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll engage my customers with these excellent tips of yours, Kaleena, (aw shucks) but how do I get more of these Instagrammers-who-shop to follow my account?

Use hashtags so customers can find you easily.

Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags, which is more than enough for the average eCommerce business. These tags are not just some trendy way to play on Instagram but rather a business tool to get people to find your brand. 

Think of it as the SEO of Instagram. 

Without them, customers will never see your content. You neeeeed to incorporate them into your posts. There are three levels of hashtags you’ll want to brainstorm and use. 

ONE: Geotags.

They get 79% more engagement and yet, only 5% of posts have ’em! 

Essentially, geotags mean you are placed in the geotag page of that city/place. And the better your post natively performs, the more likely Instagram will push it toward the top of the said page.

These tags are great if you also have a brick-and-mortar store or a pop-up like the Glossier example above.

At YOGABODY, we saw a 10% spike in user engagement when we went from a simple #yoga to adding #yogainbarcelona and #yogalosangeles geotags.

TWO: Branded hashtags.  

These hashtags should relate to your products, brand name and brand slogan. 

For example, if you’re a zodiac-inspired jewelry company called Gemini Jewelry and you sell necklaces on Instagram, your branded hashtags may be #geminijewelry and #whatsyoursign.

Quest Nutrition, which sells protein-rich treats like this White Chocolate Raspberry Quest bar below, sprinkles its branded hashtags #OnaQuest and #Questify into almost every post.

THREE: Niche hashtags. 

At YOGABODY, we quickly realized that #yoga is too broad a term —there are around 70 MILLION (!!) posts for that word in the Discover section of Instagram at any given moment. Content gets buried in an instant, only leaving the biggest and baddest of companies to be seen.

Michael Aynsley exemplifies this further in his 2019 guide for hashtags

“Let’s say you’re a social media manager for a travel agency. There are a ton of hashtags that are popular with jet-setters: #welltravelled, #justbackfrom, #whatsinmybag, and #passportexpress—to name a few. Tag your posts with any number of these and you will likely get a few extra likes.”

But don’t do any guesswork here.

You’ll want to play with different Instagram keyword tools to find a handful of hashtags to begin with, then check Instagram analytics after some time to see what’s working and what’s not. 

But just like SEO keywords in a blog post, many Instagrammers see too many hashtags as spammy.

To avoid this, intertwine brand-related hashtags into captions because these are the ones that get a good response and add voice to the copy. 

Leave geotags and niche keywords in the first comment of the post. 

They’ve found you, followed you, interacted with you and seen your products… Now what?

Let Instagrammers know what they should do next with simple calls to action (CTAs). You can ask them to buy your product, shop your store, or share with a friend.

To choose your CTAs, you’ll need to think about what’s your company goal. Are you interested in building a community? Brand awareness? Product awareness?

On other platforms, CTAs typically include a link so that the next step is as easy as pie. However, Instagram removes clickability within captions to improve user experience (and let’s be real, keep you on their platform for as long as possible). 

That’s why the most common CTA you’ll find on Instagram is “Click the link in bio!”

Here, Reformation, a sustainable fashion company, uses this tactic nicely. Mind you they’ve gone beyond writing a simple “link in bio” because that’s so 2018.

Like above, CTAs belong at the end of the caption, after you’ve already warmed up the ‘grammer with why they should care and what’s in it for them.

Here’s why:

Humans love to talk about themselves. So, get them talking!

Not only does it start a conversation, but it may also get you some juicy voice of customer data.

(BTW—you can create graphics like that in under 5 minutes using Canva.)

Here are some other CTAs you can use:

  • Head to our stories to shop!
  • Join our affiliate network
  • Download the full guide
  • Tell us your favorite!
  • Tag someone who’d look good in this (emoji)
  • Share your (insert on-brand related term) down below

Take a Gary Vee “jab, jab, jab, right hook” approach by asking followers some easy asks like “enjoy!” “comment!” “check the link!” before bigger asks like “shop”, “share”, or “buy.” 

Your bio: The elevator pitch of Instagram.

You have ~10 words to sell yourself.

What do you have to say? This will make or break you!

Just kidding. It’s actually totally changeable at any moment. 

As Allie Decker writes in this great article about Instagram copy

“Brainstorm a few key terms that people might be looking for in relation to your brand, products, or industry. Add these to your bio where relevant. Using Foundr as an example, you’ll see words like epic instead of awesome and the word startup, knowing that our audience responds positively to terms like these.”

Allie Decker

If and when you do have a branded hashtag you want to encourage followers to use, it’s good practice to list it in your Instagram bio for ease of reference—just like Joann does.

Your bio is still the only place where you can post a live link. But you do not have to keep it static.

In fact, I’d recommend you constantly change yours. Perhaps as often as you change the bedsheets. I know it’s a hassle, but it should be done weekly.

Why? That link is a chance to increase traffic to your promoted content. 

Play around with your entire Instagram bio according to the product or sale you want to highlight or drive traffic to partner accounts such as a blog, podcast, eCommerce shop, or other business. 

Since the majority of Instagram users are on mobile, you’ll either want your link to direct traffic to a landing page or use a bitly link pointing to your shop.

If you have sooo many things you need people to see, and you’re not about that ever-changing bio life, try an app like Link.tree or tap.bio which house all the links you’d need followers to be driven to. This is what that looks like:

How to write Instagram copy that won’t be overshadowed by a badass Insta-photo

  • Be punchy within the first 125 characters (that’s what the audience first sees)
  • Feature customers and how your brand helped them with a struggle through storytelling
  • Use emojis related to the post and your brand; use emojis to break up text and point the readers in the right direction
  • Post user-generated content to get your audience involved and feeling like rockstars
  • Let readers find you through the following hashtag types:
    • Geotags like #yogalosangeles.
    • Brand-related like #geminijewelry #whatsyoursign
    • Niche terms like #yogaeverydamnday
  • Scatter a few on-brand hashtags within the caption if you wish, all others belong in the first comment of the post
  • Use CTAs at the end of your post with action verbs like share, comment, shop, go, tag, check, buy, or tell

A picture is not worth a thousand words—choose yours carefully and #shineon.

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Instagram Captions for Ecommerce: Why Visuals Are Only Half the Picture

With Instagram’s growing user base, high engagement rate and increased Average Order Value (compared to Facebook), you already know that being present on Instagram is non-negotiable.

You post high quality product images, tag your products for maximum shoppability, post daily stories, have all the right hashtags, dabble in influencer marketing and endlessly fuss over your feed’s aesthetic….

Only then you’re left shaking your fists at the sky and cursing the dreaded algorithm because your post didn’t get much traction

But when it comes to your Instagram captions, you slap together two to three words, chuck an emoji on the end and call it a day.

So the thing is… it’s not the algorithm’s fault. 

It’s yours.

Because that caption you barely gave a thought to? It’s the key to increasing your engagement, your reach and, yep, even your sales.

Sure, Instagram might be a visual platform, but your captions will make or break your posts.

As Joanna has pointed out, captions and visuals need to work together:

“…the image may capture attention – but it’s
the copy that closes people.”

– Joanna Wiebe, Copyhackers.com

Let’s take a look at the most liked post on Instagram ever:

With over 53 million likes, it’s an EGG (yes, as in the kind you scramble on a Sunday morning).

It’s not even a particularly interesting picture of an egg.

But the caption gives people a reason to like, comment and share. The caption is the reason it went viral. And without that caption, it wouldn’t be a world-record-breaking egg.

The more people that liked, commented on and shared the egg, the more people it reached because:

The Instagram algorithm has heart-eyes 😍 for engagement

When Instagram first introduced the algorithm back in 2016, it seemed like all hope was lost.

Cue the angry hashtags and floods of influencer tears.

But at the risk of sounding crazy, the algorithm is a good thing for your account.

Like most algorithms, it exists to create a positive user experience by showing relevant content (so users stay on the platform longer).

And according to Instagram, what users see is directly tied to which accounts they engage with.

(Call me slightly evil, but that’s something you can use to your advantage.)

And even though The Egg has shown us that the caption is crucial to increasing engagement, many brands still consider captions an afterthought.

But not you. 

Not anymore.

You’re different. You’re smarter than that. You know that pretty pictures only get you so far.

And from this day forward, you’re going to use your captions to engage your audience, sell your products and increase customer loyalty.

You in? Then let’s write some scroll-stopping captions

Start by getting their attention, fast

Instagram users are in the habit of scrolling, double tapping and sometimes skimming the first few words of a caption – which means those first few words need to sink a claw into their eyeballs if you have any chance of keeping their attention.

It’s no different than a blog title or email subject line – if you want someone to read more, you need to lead with your most important message upfront.

Pique their curiosity, pick a fight or tease them with what they’re about to learn, and you’ll have them hitting the read more button rather than looking for something more interesting.

You can even throw in an emoji or some all caps to help draw the eye to your first line. However, in the name of all things scrolly, let that first line sit on its own. Give it space to do its thing.

As an added bonus, if you share your post to Stories (which you should, because extra reach 🙌), you can choose to have the first snippet of your caption show there too – enticing people to click through to your post. 

Here The Beauty Chef sets up the first two lines of its caption to pique curiosity with an intriguing question that leaves readers wanting to find out more:

Give ’em something to stop for

Users are selective with what they’ll pay attention to, so if they’ve deemed you worthy, then you’d better make it worth their time. The unfollow and mute buttons are only a click away – and they won’t hesitate to use them.

Avoid being ignored, muted or unfollowed by creating content that educates or entertains (ideally both, if you can manage it).

People are also more inclined to share something useful with others:

“People don’t just value practical information, they share it. Offering practical value helps make things contagious.” 

― Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

To pull this off, find out what your target audience struggles with (hot tip: try asking them) and create content that teaches them how to solve that problem – just like Go-to Skincare has done in this how-to post:

Format, format, format

If people don’t read every word of a blog, they’re not going to read every word of a lengthy caption.

The truth is that the majority of people are scanners – which is why you need to format your caption in a way that makes it scannable.

And although Instagram limits formatting options, you can still use:

  • Line breaks to separate paragraphs
  • Emojis to create visual interest (or to create a bullet list)
  • Brackets, all caps or *asterisks* 
  • Strategically placed hashtags (because they show up as a blue link)

So even though your options are limited, there is no excuse for assaulting your audience’s eyes with unreadable walls of text.

Instead, break up your caption by using line breaks, emojis and all caps to create visual interest:

Keep it casual

Instagram isn’t the place for overly formal language, but beware of trying too hard to fit in…

With that in mind, here are a few tips for nailing your voice on Insta:

  • Aim for casual language and a conversational tone, keeping in mind how your audience speaks.
  • Whatever your voice is, keep it consistent. Nothing screams “identity crisis!” more than a voice that changes from post to post.
  • Avoid trust-destroying inconsistency by dialing in your brand voice and (especially if there are multiple people handling your social media) defining it via a brand voice guide.

Above, Il Makiage embraces the same bold, cheeky tone used throughout its copy.

Talk up your product… a bit

With 80% of Instagrammers using the platform to help make purchasing decisions, your caption is the perfect place to talk your product up without having to get too salesy about it.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Highlight the problem your product solves
  • Talk about a lesser known use case for it
  • Tell a story around how your product was made or why you picked a certain material or ingredient
  • Talk about a specific feature and its benefit in depth

This can be as simple as listing out features and benefits (bonus points for using checkmark emojis to break it up):

Let your followers see the real you

Connection might sound like a warm and fuzzy word, but it has real-life impact – building trust, increasing the amount customers spend and strengthening customer loyalty.

Think higher purchase frequency, higher average order value and higher customer lifetime value – in other words, the metrics you want to focus on to offset customer acquisition costs.

In practice this means letting customers see behind the scenes, featuring team members and simply being present and responsive.

Plus, when prospective customers know there are real humans (that they can put a name and a face to) behind a brand, they may be less inclined to fire off a nasty customer support request. For example, Koala (an Australian mattress company) could easily come across as a faceless big brand, but by adding a bit of fun behind-the-scenes content, they keep it personable.

Go all-in on engagement

If you’ve spent 0.5 seconds on the Copyhackers site, then you already know that having an appropriate call to action is non-negotiable.

And yet, even after crafting a scroll-stopping caption, the CTA is often nowhere to be found – leaving the user with no other option than to move on.

But with the Insta algorithm favoring content that people engage with, your main goal for every post should be this:

to encourage interaction.

This can be as simple as:

  • Asking a question (who, what, where, why, how), or
  • Prompting action (tap, check out, comment, visit, tell, tag, share or save)

‘Tag a friend’ captions (like tentree’s example above) are everywhere – because they work.

Ok, so now you know how to nail those Insta captions, you’re done, right? 

Hahaha, cute. 

But no. 

We’re not done yet, because…

Your captions aren’t the only place to include copy

Sure they’re important (see: literally everything above), but here are a few other spots where copy can improve your Instagram game:

Level up your bio. No, really

Don’t let the 150 character limit fool you. Instagram bios may look simple, but there are lots of opportunities to level up your copy here.

Let’s start with the Name field ← because no, your name does not go here.

You really thought you had that one figured out, didn’t you?

But names are a searchable field on Instagram, which means that rather than wasting it on repeating your business name (a version of which should be your @handle), you need to include a keyword or two here instead (or as well) – the same way Dirt has included “Laundry Detergent” in theirs.

That way, when a user is searching for what you offer, you’re more likely to show up in the results. 

And once they do find you, it’s your bio that helps them decide whether or not to hit that follow button.

That’s why a good bio is similar to your homepage headline: it needs to tell the reader what you’re offering and why they should care.

Think about including your flagship product (or the two to three you’re known for) in your bio, along with your point(s) of difference, shipping info, sales/discount codes or a branded hashtag if you have one.

Make your bio easy to read by including emojis and line breaks. 

(Pro tip: you’ll need to type your bio into the notes app on your phone and then copy and paste it into Instagram to get those sweet line breaks to work.)

And given that your bio is the only Insta space that allows an external link (aka: The One Link to Rule Them All), make sure you give people a compelling reason to click that link.

Here’s an example of a concise but powerful Instagram bio that ticks the boxes:

Put copy right into your images 

Instagram is a visual platform, and users are conditioned to quickly scan post and story images to decide whether or not the caption is worth reading.

Take advantage of this by adding copy to your image – using it to either get your point across in full or to entice them to read more. 

These can be on-brand text graphics, branded gifs, screenshots of reviews or less polished but highly-shareable meme posts.

Get a good convo going

The real power behind Instagram is that it gives consumers the opportunity to communicate directly with brands via comments and DMs.

These casual conversations are essential for building relationships and have a positive impact on trust between a brand and consumers (plus there’s a connection between engagement and consumer loyalty).

So whether they’re asking a question about a product via DM, commenting on your post or responding to your Story… potential customers will interact with your brand. (Instagram still has a 1.2% engagement rate, miles ahead of other platforms.) And that’s kinda the whole point.

Beyond customer acquisition and loyalty, these conversations can also serve as a source of voice of customer data, giving you insight into how they describe your product, what they love about it and the outcome they are looking for. 

Engaged followers are warm prospects, and if someone is asking a question, then their finger is hovering over the Add To Cart button. But they’re not the only ones who can see that comment and your reply. By answering questions publicly (and adding them to your website and product page FAQs), you can help move multiple prospects toward buying.

On the flipside, nothing raises suspicion (and signals that a brand is either unresponsive or doesn’t care) more than unanswered questions on a post…. 

Don’t have time to respond to potential customers? Outsource it to your customer service team or hire an engagement manager – just make sure that they’re equipped with the info they’ll need to get the job done.

Give your product descriptions a fresh eye

The introduction of shoppable posts added a whole new area to optimize: your Instagram product descriptions.

Insta is still trialling the in-app checkout feature (and the jury is out on it, given that you can’t upsell and won’t capture customer emails), but in the meantime users can still tap on a product tag in your post to be taken to a in-app product page with a ‘View on Website’ button.

Tagged posts also show up under the shop section of your feed, like this: 

So a user can browse all of your products easily without clicking over to your website. And with the addition of the Shop section to the Explore page, and an instant Wishlist created when users save a tagged product, it’s obvious that Instagram is going all in on getting users to shop.

You can import your product descriptions into Instagram (along with the product) straight from your store, but make sure that the formatting doesn’t disappear. Nobody is going to read your blob of text if it’s all smooshed together without formatting.

And with the app still pushing users to your product page, if your description doesn’t cover all the essentials (things like fit, materials, ingredients and shipping), now would be a good time to get on that.

Use copy to encourage post-purchase sharing

People love to share their unboxing experiences (which might be why there are over one million posts under #unboxing).

And while this doesn’t technically fall under Instagram copy, having packaging copy that consumers deem share-worthy can increase social proof, get your brand in front of more people and supply you with a healthy stream of user-generated content (which you can repost to your feed).

Take Go-To Skincare’s Transformazing mask for example, with its bold on-package quotes featured in customer posts and stories consistently since its release.

You can also harness the power of surprise and delight by including Easter egg copy. A line of unexpected copy on the inside of a box or bottom of a package can not only positively impact customer satisfaction, but is just the type of thing that could get someone to share.

But don’t just leave it up to chance. Use product tags and/or transactional emails to ask customers to snap a pic and share using your branded hashtag ← *tada* instant social proof and user-generated content.

SHHHOWERCAP uses the shipping notification email to encourage customers to share and tag:

…And it works, with #SHHHELFIE clocking up over 1,200 posts.

Alright, NOW we’re done (for real this time)

You now know that crafting compelling Instagram captions is just as important as finding the perfect visuals, and you know exactly how to use your social media copy to capture attention, build trust and influence purchase decisions. 

Which means it’s time for you to go and sharpen up your Insta captions and copy already and get ready for your post engagement to soar. #whatchuwaitingfor? 

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The User-Centric Delight Audit for SaaS

What makes people love your product so much that they want to spread the word about it?

Is it clever marketing?

No. You can have the best SaaS marketing in the world, but it won’t always turn your customers into evangelists.

Is it price? I mean… we all love a good deal.

Sure, competing on price will make the bargain hunters happy, but it’s never a good idea to race to the bottom.

Is it celebrity/influencer endorsements?

Well, your product may look cooler if Justin Bieber is slinging it, but it’s not the surefire thing that’s going to win the hearts and minds of your customers.

So… what is it?

The answer is… *drum roll, please*…

Delight.

That’s right… it’s delight.

On a recent episode of the Foundr podcast, Andy Rachleff, the co-founder of Wealthfront, said delight is the secret to everything.

Including product-market fit.

“If customers are absolutely delighted by your product and the experience you give them, they’ll want to talk about it and help you achieve organic exponential growth,” he said.

Delight is a word we hear thrown around quite a bit… especially in the world of SaaS. 

But, um, what does ‘delight’ really mean? And how does one do delight?

Those are big questions, so let’s start at the beginning.

Nielsen Norman Group says (fairly scientifically) that delight qualifies as any positive emotional effect that a user may have when interacting with a device or interface.

Positive emotional effects, eh? Those definitely matter. 

Here’s why: 

Human beings are driven by emotions (and often make decisions based on them).

Establishing an emotional connection with users through delight is an easy way to add value to customer interactions. What’s more: it can help meet even deeper needs, too. 

This phenomenon can be traced back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow proposed that once basic necessities are met (e.g. food and shelter), people seek deeper needs like love, creativity and self-worth. 

Image source

The same can be said for customer experience in the SaaS world. 

After you’ve provided customers with a solution, rolling out tactics that meet deeper needs can result in that magical feeling of delight. In fact, author Aarron Walter says in Designing for Emotion that there’s a very similar pyramid in the realm of user needs with delight situated right at the peak:

Image source

And this illustrates an important truth: If you can deliver delight, you’ve got all the basics covered (and then some).

Creating something that’s as delightful as it is functional makes your product or brand irresistible

And with countless software, apps and tools just a click away, delighting customers helps forge a psychological connection that’s both unique and significant to your long-term relationship. 

Plus, when a customer is charmed by a company, and I mean I-need-to-share-this-on-Twitter-right-now charmed, it not only resonates with that particular customer, it’s also an opportunity for other potential customers to see your brand in action. 

Delight also matters because…

Attention is hijacked. 

Modern users have high expectations and are short on patience for the software they use. If they aren’t satisfied, they’re likely to switch to something new. Kolsky research shows 66% of consumers list bad customer experience as one of their primary reasons for churning. 

There are so many options out there. 

Improving customer experience can be the differentiator. Personalization is becoming the norm rather than the exception, so you HAVE to go above and beyond. Walker data indicates that customer experience is predicted to overtake price and product as the primary brand differentiator for B2B sales by 2020. 

It helps in reducing customer churn and creates happy, loyal customers. 

A NewVoice survey found that 50% of consumers would use a company more frequently after a positive customer experience.

Customers aren’t just making a purchase once. 

In many cases (especially when a monthly subscription fee is involved), customers need to be resold and re-assured of their purchase decision every month. That outreach pays off: 11% of customer churn could be avoided if the business simply reached out to the customer, according to Kolsky findings.

If the product is optional for users, delight will help keep them engaged. 

If the reality is you’ve created a vitamin instead of a cure, a delightful experience can bridge the gap between want and need. Zendesk found that 24% of buyers continue to seek out vendors for two-plus years after a positive experience. 

Okay, tell me more. How do other people define delight? 

It depends who you ask…

Delight is an idea that pivots on positive emotions. We can agree on that much, yes?

But for different people, it means different things. Think of this as our Billy on the Street segment where we stop people on the street and scream, “HOW DO YOU DEFINE DELIGHT?” into their faces.

Some of the answers we get to that question are:

  • “Surprising a customer by exceeding his/her expectations and thus creating a positive emotional reaction.” – Hrishi P
  • “Providing a customer with a ‘wow’ moment – something positive they didn’t expect – going that extra mile, being proactive.” – Nigel Greenwood
  • “It’s that extra mile you go to satisfy your customer even further beyond what’s required.” – Prathamesh Angle

Interesting, right? A lot of touchy-feely stuff about positive emotions.

But what does delight look like in SaaS, specifically? 

That’s where things start to become a bit more grey. 

  • Is it stellar customer service that goes above and beyond?
  • Is it in-product design that makes for an easy, enjoyable experience?
  • Is it sending customers unexpected freebies in their orders?

I started asking around to see how people working in SaaS would define delight.

Rand Fishkin, Sparktoro: SaaS delight is a holistic sense of product satisfaction combined with unexpected, perhaps whimsical enjoyment from the product’s features, UX, value, communication or relationships.

Ryan Smith, Bench: We deliver delight through amazing service, and to echo this, we’re always looking to add a personal touch through our content that’s, well, delightful.

Praval Singh, Zoho: For us, delight is offering a seamless customer experience from purchase to support. That’s what keeps our customers happy, and that’s where we focus our energy and efforts. 

SaaS companies would say a delightful experience is one that combines personal, accessible service with unexpected joy and enthusiasm from the brand. 

Ok, that’s a little more clear. 

But we’re not stopping there. No, no.

As for a viewpoint on SaaS delight from those not tied to a single company, there were a few interesting takes on delight as well:

Alaura Weaver, SaaS writer: I define delight as immersing your user in an environment that speaks to the emotional outcomes you want to create for them. My research is inspired by The Dream Society by futurist Rolf Jensen, who in the 1990s predicted that technology will drive the experience economy: that is, it’s not enough to build a product that works. To stand out you need to build an emotional world for your user, and your product is simply the gateway to that world. I’m also a former theatre artist, and the element of delight is essential for winning and keeping the attention of an audience. Delight is a positive form of surprise. When you deliver an out-of-the-ordinary experience that leaves your audience happy, you’ve created delight.

Sid Bharath, SaaS Consultant: I define and measure delight by how customers react to it. For example, if you send a customer a box of donuts when they hit a milestone, are they tweeting about it? If you send them a branded T-shirt, are they wearing it and taking selfies? If there’s an extremely positive reaction to an initiative, then that’s delight – and you can measure that by the number of times it happens.

While the definitions of delight in the SaaS world vary, the big-picture translation I took away was this: 

Delight encompasses those beautiful moments that make the customer go, “Oh, coooooool.” 

They make the internal light bulb flip on and get the dopamine a-flowin’.

And it’s about much more than good UX.

Good UX does help improve the overall customer experience, but it’s not the only thing that can produce moments of delight.

This naturally begs the question then: “Where… or when, exactly, does delight happen?”

Glad you asked.

In SaaS, delight isn’t limited to one particular experience. Or moment. Or even realm (like product or marketing). 

Instead, it’s an omni-channel experience that can happen at any and every touchpoint between brand and customer. 

Think of it like this: If there’s a place where your users can interact with you in any way, there’s an opportunity to create delight.

That means there are many, many SaaS opportunities for moments of delight, including within customer interactions via:

  • Customer success 
  • Website experiences
  • Social media
  • Content/blogs
  • SaaS onboarding experiences
  • Emails
  • In-app experiences
  • In-person events

Common theme I noticed here? Customers

They’re right in the middle of everything, all across the board.

I wanted to see if this theory held up with a bit more context, though. So I started asking around for SaaS product examples that show delight in action. I found a few home runs that came in various forms and formats:

1. Wistia: The Soapbox video campaign

Wistia enlisted the help of the video experts at Sandwich to create three different video ad campaigns for their Soapbox video tool. The goal: Do an experiment around different advertising budgets for video. One video cost $1,000 to produce, one $10,000 and another $100,000.

The end result was not only a wildly amusing piece of educational content featuring their SaaS product, but it garnered tons of delight-filled customer responses. Take a look at some of the comments left on their blog post recapping the experiment:

2. Typeform: Delightful microcopy

Another slam dunk example came in a much smaller package: The microcopy within Typeform’s contact form. A dash of personality in those form fields adds an unexpected element of delight. I mean, who can resist a Batman reference?

3. Flywheel: Unexpected swag

Another great example came in the medium of snail mail. One day author and online educator Paul Jarvis went out to his smailbox to discover a package from Flywheel, the SaaS product he uses for WordPress hosting. Inside the box was a boatload of free swag: branded T-shirts, a coffee mug, stickers, a journal, a water bottle and more. 

This unexpected instance of going above and beyond for a customer (for no reason other than to say thank you) created a major delight-filled experience.

And who are all of these efforts pointed at? 

You guessed it: Customers. Happy ones.

Customers that are amused, pleasantly surprised and feeling all the good feels about the SaaS brand they just interacted with.

Okay, so how do we create delight for our customers?

Delight creation comes in many forms. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how.

Creating a “sticky” SaaS product as Unbounce calls it (in other words, something your customers can’t live without each day) is the name of the game. 

You want your customers to love what your product does to help them reach their business goals, and to love to use it because the experience is so bloody awesome. Take a look at Slack’s “Wall of Love” on Twitter, for example:

Trello also has raving fans on Twitter who tweet – unprompted – about how much they *love* using it:

#WINNING.

This tells us that if you don’t provide the unique and lovable experience your SaaS customers are looking for, your product just won’t make the cut. 

We see this in the failure of SaaS products of the past, such as:

  • LucidEra, an on-demand business intelligence solution provider (replaced by more agile, cloud-based SaaS analytics software)
  • ChaCha, the human-guided search engine (used an advertising model for revenue generation that eventually fizzled)
  • Rdio, an online music streaming service (margins were too thin and users weren’t willing to pay)

Remember them? They had the right tools to help people, but they failed to delight their customers.

The “stickiness” of your SaaS product often correlates with customer churn. John Warrillow, author of The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry, says: “Your biggest competitor for your subscription business is not the rival service; it’s your customer’s inertia in not using your service.”

If your company is experiencing high levels of churn, Unbounce suggests looking at your product from under a customer experience microscope and asking questions like:

  • How does your product solve your customer’s issues? 
  • What makes your product unique? 
  • Why should customers choose you over your competitors?

If you have the answers to those questions already, ask your team to brainstorm around these next-level questions: 

  • How can we add more delight into the mix? 
  • Where does it make sense to do so? 
  • What value would this add to the product?

By answering these questions, you can work toward reducing your time to value, which is the rate at which your customers recognize the value of your product. 

Cutting down on the time it takes for new users to realize the value of your SaaS means you’re more likely to retain customers. 

Why? Because so often, customers churn when they don’t have that activation moment that makes them realize they can’t live without your offering.

Keeping the customer top of mind when designing or improving a product can mean the difference between it becoming a heavy-hitter in their software arsenal (or just another product they tried). 

The good news is: There are some easy ways to check and make sure that you’re integrating customer delight into everything you do.

Metrics to help measure & monitor delight efforts

Delight metrics help piece together the story of whether or not you’re actively delivering delight – and if not – why. Think of them as a finger on the pulse of your delight efforts. 

But there’s no single SaaS KPI metric that measures delight. SaaS specialists like Val Geisler say measuring efforts should be holistic:

“Net promoter scores (NPS) feel like an obvious answer, but there’s more to delight than a high NPS. You also have to evaluate: Are your customers submitting tickets often? What’s the tone or category of those tickets? Are your customers referring others onto your platform? Lifetime value (LTV) is another big indicator. Take a look at your customer cohorts and LTV as well to see how long you’re retaining customers,” she said.

When evaluated collectively, all of these SaaS customer success metrics help paint the picture around how your users and customers feel about your product, your service and their experience with your brand as a whole.

  • Net Promoter Scores (NPS): The NPS allows companies to measure customer experience and predict business growth. This score is instrumental in determining the success of a product and helps calculate customer churn rate.
  • Customer satisfaction ratings: This straightforward scale rating asks customers directly, “How satisfied are you with X on a scale of Y to Z?” From product to service to experience, this question can help gauge customer satisfaction of brand performance from top to bottom and get a big picture view of different departmental efforts.
  • Volume of support tickets: This metric gives you an overview of your customer support demands, as well as helping to identify trends around customer inquiries and problems. If your support ticket volume is on the rise, there’s likely an underlying issue that’s getting in the way of delight.
  • Referrals: It’s safe to say that if a customer is referring friends, family or colleagues to you, they had a positive experience. If you notice a sudden drop off in referral traffic, this is a sign that something has gone awry.
  • Long-term retention/customer churn: This metric allows you to measure the lifespan of your customers. You can learn a lot from customer churn, including possible weak points with your product, issues with customer service or whether you need to reevaluate your audience targeting. If churn is high and retention rates start to drop, you need to get to the bottom of the issue.
  • Lifetime value of a customer (LTV): LTV allows businesses to estimate how much a customer is likely to spend on a product or service based on behavior and financial habits. This metric can help businesses calculate which customers they should invest in and which ones are expected to drop off.

Analyzing these numbers regularly can help inform how effective your company is at delighting customers. Trial and error is often required (especially in the early stages), but these metrics can help guide you when working to determine what’s working and what needs another look. 

So, how often should we be looking at these SaaS metrics? 

How often metrics are reviewed likely differs from company to company.

But according to Smile.io, taking a look at these metrics regularly can help you keep a finger on the pulse of your delight efforts. That might mean daily, weekly or monthly (at the very least.)

If you’re launching a new product or service, checking on these more frequently during the initial stages will help identify any red flags or issues that need to be addressed immediately. Just keep in mind that it might take a few months of customer engagement to see trends form.

And metrics aren’t the only way you can measure and monitor delight. 

Listen in on social

To get a more well-rounded, all-encompassing view of how you’re doing with delight, you should also look at social media chatter. It’s important to know what are people saying about your brand on social channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (to name a few.) In fact, SproutSocial has a whole list of perks that come with social listening:

Image source

What’s more? You’ll also find out:

  • If people are sharing amazing customer experiences you’ve created for them
  • What, in particular, customers are finding “delightful” about your SaaS product
  • If there’s a specific activity, experience or person at your company that’s getting a lot of praise and buzz

For example: Happy customers shared their thoughts about positive experiences using Basecamp over on Twitter.

Not only is this type of social feedback great social proof for the company, but it’s also organic user-generated content that can be easily shared.

And monitoring social chatter isn’t as daunting a task as you might think as there are lots of social listening tools that can help make monitoring easy. Mention, IFTTT and Hootsuite can all help you keep tabs on not just brand mentions, but important keywords and product names as well.

Ask customers yourself

The last piece of the puzzle around measuring delight involves some hands-on work with customers: one-to-one interviews and surveys. 

While looking at metrics and observing social chatter are activities you can manage from a distance, customer interviews and surveys let you get up close and personal with the people who matter most. 

Through these efforts you can find answers to delight-centric questions like:

  • What do customers like/don’t like about your company?
  • What elements of the customer experience are working/not working?
  • Are there common points of friction or frustration that can be improved upon?

If you’re not sure where or how to start with these efforts, turn to tools like SurveyMonkey, Getfeedback or Typeform to start sending out surveys. You should also encourage your CX and/or customer support teams to conduct interviews specifically for this purpose.

Image source

Interviewing customers can also open up the conversation and help them feel at home with any suggestions they might have that aren’t options in a check yes-or-no standard survey. If they’re more comfortable with you after a conversation, their feedback could be more genuine and therefore, much more valuable to you.

By giving customers a voice and keeping tabs on how they feel about all aspects of the customer experience, you can make sure you’re always delivering delight.

SaaS companies doing delight right: The examples

A tricky thing about delight is that it’s different for each and every individual (as you’ve probably noticed.)

What if the changes you make hoping to improve CX end up really annoying your existing customers?

For example: You might switch up your user interface based on interviews and survey data and still lose customers who don’t like the new version.

These are the frustrations of delight and working to make your brand appealing to all different kinds of people. But there are brands out there that are, in the words of Tim Gunn, “Making it work.”

Let’s take a look at how some SaaS companies navigate the art of delight.

HubSpot

One way HubSpot delivers delight to users is by creating a community for them to share and network with other professionals like them (HubSpot Blog, HubSpot Academy, INBOUND, HubSpot User Groups, etc.) By creating these communities and partnerships, we’re able to delight customers by providing them with forums to continually offer their feedback, but also to partner up with like-minded individuals they can continue learning from.” – Sophia Bernazzani, HubSpot

Trello

Delivering delight at Trello is one of the highlights of my career here. We’ve been able to explore numerous avenues where we can create memorable moments along the entire user journey. Here’s an example: When you go to trello.com to sign up, you’ll notice placeholder email addresses in the email field. Those email addresses are fun references to Harry Potter, Futurama, X-Files and more.” – Brian Cervino, Trello

Profitwell

Our Profitwell product manager is always in the support chat, getting to know users and finding out what their pain points are with the product right from the source. Shortening the feedback loop that way really helps to increase customer delight.” – Mary Matton, Profitwell

Emma

“We surprise some of our new Emma customers with a package that includes cupcakes or cupcake mix, branded wooden spoons and welcome items like a note from our team to help create a delightful experience right off the bat. It’s a nice way to reinforce our value proposition and helps show that we’re willing to go above and beyond for our customers.” – Lane Harbin, Emma

SaaS delight audit: 5 steps to create delight

By following the SaaS audit steps outlined here, you can be sure that you’re doing everything you should be to create churn-reducing, evangelist-creating delight – time after time.

Step 1: Define what delight means for your brand. 

Literally… create a delight definition. Write down one to three sentences that explain what delight means at your company and then share it with your whole team. Use this definition to cement the idea of your unique version of delight and what it means for your customers. Be specific, and make sure it ties in with your brand’s mission and values.

Step 2: Define metrics and benchmark.

Select metrics that will help you measure delight, then set SMART goals around those numbers to gauge performance. Use the tools you’ve implemented to help you grab the analytics and take a hard look at what’s working (and what’s not). Then adjust accordingly.

Step 3: Start monitoring.

In order to delight customers consistently over time, you need to make sure you’re doing a good job with your efforts by monitoring them closely. Make sure that your delight activities are regular and ongoing, as this isn’t a one-and-done. Set up tools and processes that keep your finger on your company’s delight pulse and track your performance throughout the week, month and year.

Step 4: Report and share.

SaaS customer experience touches every department, so everyone needs to be in on the numbers and reporting around delight. Make it part of your company culture to talk about your customer delight findings regularly. Bonus: This helps break down silos and opens the door for cross-department collaboration and conversation.

Step 5: Innovate and improve. 

Keep coming up with fresh, new ways you can delight customers over time. Brainstorm collectively and welcome interesting new approaches, rather than sticking with the ‘this is how we’ve always done things’ view. Take notes on what your competitors are doing and any instances of particularly unique or interesting approaches you notice in the wild. Delight efforts need to evolve over time, so be sure that innovation is part of the brainstorming process.

Final thoughts on delight

Customer experience specialist Alli Blum summed up SaaS delight nicely.

She explained that in the realm of SaaS software, delight feels like it’s something that customers experience as a secondary result of using a product or interacting with a company. Getting the help you need when you need it is a delight. Finding a way to do something in a tenth of the time is a delight. Feeling like you’re the company’s only customer is a delight. 

That said, she also explained that delivering delight to customers is only possible if you understand who they are and what they want on a deep level. 

For example: Offering customers a discount or stickers will make some people happy. But your customer might feel much more delighted if you answered their support tickets almost immediately, if you made the updates they want or if you gave them ways to promote their work and connect with others who use your product. 

So what does that tell us?

The bottom line: Delight is personal. Customers are the center of delight. 

It isn’t limited to in-app experiences.

It’s not just about ‘cool’ features.

It’s about putting the customer front and center at every possible interaction and giving them what they want and need – often well before they even know they want or need it.


Delight audit checklist

Initial delight brainstorming session

Bring your team together and answer these questions to assess your current delight efforts and to kick off a discussion around future plans.

  • How does your product solve your customers’ issues? 
  • What makes your product unique? 
  • Why should customers choose you over your competitors?
  • How can you add more delight into the mix? 
  • Where does it make sense to do so? 
  • What value would it add to the product?

To-do list

Next, walk through these to-do list items to make sure you have a documented strategy for delight moving forward.

  1. Define what delight means for your brand: Write down one to three sentences that explain what delight means at your company.
  2. Define metrics and benchmark: Select metrics that will help you measure delight, then set SMART goals around those numbers to gauge performance.
  3. Start monitoring: Make sure you’re doing a good job with your efforts by monitoring them closely.
  4. Report and share: Make it part of your company culture to talk about your customer delight findings regularly. 
  5. Innovate and improve: Keep coming up with fresh, new ways you can delight customers over time. 

Customer touchpoints to review

Audit the following touchpoints to see where you can add delight to the experience. 

  • Customer success 
  • Website experiences
  • Social media
  • Content/blogs
  • Onboarding experiences
  • Emails
  • In-app experiences
  • In-person events

Metrics to study

Put together a plan for reporting on key delight metrics and a plan of action to resolve any issues that may arise.

  • Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
  • Customer satisfaction ratings
  • Volume of support tickets
  • Referrals
  • Long-term retention/customer churn
  • Lifetime value of a customer (LTV)
  • Social chatter
  • Customer interviews/surveys

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How I Turned Dozens of Bad Reviews into Hundreds of New Customers

Unhappy customers appear out of nowhere.

Usually online. Usually passionate. Usually vocal.

Nobody likes getting negative reviews. And I’m not advocating that you go out and try to stir some up. But here’s what a lot of people miss about getting bad reviews:

You can write some really great copy – and optimize your offers – using what unhappy customers tell you.

I did exactly that.

What I’m about to share works great for small businesses, freelancers, even established companies. If any of these scenarios rings a bill, you’ll want to read on:

  • Your business gets negative customer reviews that are public
  • Your business gets bad feedback from clients and customers, via support, phone or in-person conversations
  • You find yourself anxious or afraid of your work not being good enough to pass the test of all those strangers out there who might not like what they see… and might then say negative things about you.

Let’s turn bad feedback – which everyone gets – into a blessing.

Here’s how I just did exactly that for a client of mine.

My client’s last-ditch attempt at salvation

It all started when I received an email from a lead:

Long story short, this guy wanted me to work on his email campaign. He seemed to be in a rush. Nothing out of the ordinary. Leads almost always want things done yesterday.

Me + good money = good work.

Good work = happy client!

That’s what I thought… until I started researching his business and found a bunch of very negative one-star reviews:

I had a problem…

A HUGE problem. This client had so many negative reviews! It wasn’t catastrophic. But for a business getting most of it leads online, it certainly wasn’t going to make my job easier.

My client had so much bad feedback he could give Comcast a run for its money

Would people buy anything from him?

I relayed my thoughts to him and got an apt response:

“Just do whatever it takes to get me some business.”

Ah… if only it were that simple.

The nature of my client’s industry meant customer opinions and reviews were really important in influencing sales. It didn’t matter if I was John Caples’s reincarnate; prospects would always stop and reconsider their purchase the moment they checked the reviews.

I was very close to refunding my client’s deposit…

Then, it hit me.

What if I could somehow leverage negative customer feedback to improve conversion rates?

What if I could adapt the age-old sales technique of handling the objection before the customer brings it up?

Any other business owner would have raised concerns over the suggestion. But I knew my client was so desperate he’d accept whatever I offered to help keep the business afloat.

After a few hours of research, I realized most of the negative feedback revolved mainly around two things:

  1. poor customer service and
  2. the offer itself. 

When we talk about copywriting, we’re really talking about three things, in this order of importance:

  1. The list / visitors.
  2. The offer.
  3. The copy.

Optimizing your offer is even more important than optimizing your copy. What the negative reviews showed us was that customers felt the offer, which was a 28-day fitness challenge, under-delivered on its promise. It was mediocre at best, and it was over-priced at $197.

Bad review. Good insights.

So I incorporated my findings into an email campaign for a new and improved bootcamp. Customers were invited to try a 14-day challenge, after which my client could then upgrade them to the 28-day program.

But I didn’t stop at optimizing the offer. Instead of shying away from the flaws in the previous offer, I used my client’s mistakes as leverage in getting attention for (and clicks to) our emails.

Check out this email subject line, for example:

That subject line represented the overall tone and approach of the emails: no excuses, and 100% transparency about the previous offer (and past mediocre customer service).

Within a month, we brought in over 300 new customers with this email campaign. And we would not have arrived at this place of growth had we not read through and used those negative reviews.

The fact that I managed to get 300 paying customers despite working with such a massive disadvantage was unbelievable, even to the client.

Wondering if the reviews improved? They sure did. Remember: we upsold the 14-day folks to 28-day customers, hence the “28 day” mentions:

I know what you’re thinking.

What if that was just a fluke?

That crossed my mind a couple of times.

So I decided to repeat the exercise, but this time for a digital marketing coach and good friend of mine. The business was doing OK-ish in terms of customer feedback – not too bad yet nothing to write home about either.

My friend wanted to generate leads for his new course and enlisted my help to craft his autoresponder. I could have gone with a tried-and-tested technique, but my success with the previous client had me itching for experimentation. We had collaborated for a long time so I knew for a fact that this guy had one fault:

He was terrible at client calls.

You’d be more likely to win the lottery jackpot than to have a productive conversation with him on the phone. I say that with love. Great dude. Terrible salesperson. And although he didn’t have actual negative online reviews for me to reference, I knew from our experiences together that he was getting negative feedback in client calls.

So I did an A/B test for the autoresponder:

Variation A acknowledged negative feedback, while Variation B was your industry-standard email series. 

Like I did with the previous client, I tackled the problem head-on by inserting language and insights from the business’s negative reviews into the copy. Here’s how one of the subject lines turned out:

I turned my friend’s problem into an advantage by explaining why the guy sucks at client calls.

This is an excerpt from the email body copy:

Notice how I turned the negative feedback into a good thing for the client by justifying why it’s alright for him to suck at calls. Sure, it is a questionable approach, but this client is gung-ho in his teaching style (think Tim Ferriss). So it was not out of place for his business.

Guess what! I got great results again.

We got 42 paid signups (for a course worth $197) within the first 12 hours of launch day, which was way above what the client expected.

I tried the same technique with another fitness client.

This client was eager to promote his latest weightlifting program. Unlike the first fitness client, this gym had just surpassed the 4.5-star mark on Google.

The problem at this gym was this:

A lack of coaches.

People were coming in only to get turned down or were receiving minimal assistance. And their reviews showed it:

My client wasn’t too keen about my idea of acknowledging the gym’s weaknesses. Given it had been building momentum from a number of glowing reviews, why would he bother bringing up negative feedback that only happened once in a while?

With the results of the previous two clients, I convinced him to run a similar campaign and to hire a handful of part-time coaches to keep up with demand. One of the headlines I came up with for the email funnel alluded to this change:

Surprise, surprise: We sold out slots for every location within two weeks of the launch.

It turns out this negative-review-mining technique can be replicated… and it can be used in various niches to produce fantastic results. 

In the following sections, I’m going to discuss everything I did in leveraging negative reviews so you can use them to your advantage.

Bad reviews are more useful than you think

Reviews are crazy important.

Spiegel Research Center showed over 95% of online shoppers check reviews before buying online while a similar study by the Content Marketing Institute placed reviews as one of the most impactful factors in purchase decisions.

The relevance of online reviews for US buyers (image source)

The power of reviews is why many business owners tremble at the thought of getting bad comments – including yours truly.

It hurts to have someone say something negative about your work.

Imagine hustling your butt off only to have someone say it sucks.

“I’m not gonna pay for this!”

Awful, right?

Well, shit happens even to the best.

Apple got a ton of flak for throttling the performance of iPhones with older batteries.

Netflix lost half of its share value after a price hike in 2011. 

JetBlue made international news a decade ago after leaving over a thousand passengers stranded.

Guess what?

They’re still in business today. Big business.

To overcome bad reviews and leverage them in your favor, you need to know why and how they happen.

I split negative customer feedback into two parts: your fault, and the customer’s fault

You get bad reviews when your work sucks (duh).

The same also happens even if you do nothing wrong. No matter how hard you try, some people cannot be pleased.

What you CAN do is recognize your blunders and be honest about them.

I’m sure you’ve been through sticky situations in your career. Missed deadlines, shambolic client communications, poor work quality – you name it.

The best comeback?

A sincere apology. Let your customers know you made a mistake, that you’re sorry and you will make up for it.

Wait a minute…

Can I trust a company so open about its weaknesses?!

What if they make a mistake with MY order?

Unless you’re building spaceships, you WILL be making mistakes from time to time. Hiding your faults is going to take a lot more effort than accepting them.

You need to embrace your weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Why does being vulnerable work, anyway?

It boils down to how we treat and trust people who display signs of vulnerability. People who are vulnerable with each other are more likely to have longer lasting relationships than those who aren’t. 

Don’t get me wrong.

To be vulnerable is not to be weak; it is the willingness to let go of your ego and share your deepest, darkest fears as well as expressing your feelings truthfully.

You’re more likely to build stronger bonds with friends or family with whom you discuss personal issues than you are with colleagues or acquaintances who aren’t privy to your innermost thoughts and feelings. 

Umm… but what does this have to do with copywriting?

The exact same logic applies to businesses.

Your customers want to feel that closeness too!

Your customers want to know you understand them and that YOU have the best solution for their problems.

They don’t want to be another cog in the profit machine. They want to feel important – especially if your products are relatively expensive.

Last year, I finished an article way past the submission date.

My client commented on my lateness. And rather than making excuses, I owned my mistake and expressed my remorse. 

Obviously, he wasn’t happy about the late article but check out his response.

The point is…

I made a mistake, told my client about it and got back to work rather than finding excuses. 

When done correctly, apologizing builds trust and customer satisfaction – like in my situation. This guy has since become my most profitable (and happiest) client. And we’re still working together today.

Another perk?

Apologizing can help you win back customers and clients you’ve lost and turn them into loyal, profitable supporters of your business.

There’s nothing special about what I did.

Companies have been doing this for years.

Most successful companies have procedures to address their customers’ concerns, which also act as safety nets when shit hits the fan.

Companies fail from time to time,
but notice how they respond to negative reviews

Apple’s infamous Batterygate scandal is a textbook case of how effective this technique can be.

In response to the criticism, Apple released a letter addressing the problems with its phone batteries and apologized to customers for the inconvenience.

The complaints could’ve been brushed aside, but acknowledging the problems with the iPhone’s battery life was 100% the right move for Apple’s reputation. To top it off, Apple offered massive discounts on its batteries with no strings attached.

Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings made up for huge mistakes in his handling of pricing changes by apologizing publicly in an honest email, while former JetBlue president David Neeleman filmed an extremely personal video message after passengers were left stranded for over eight hours due to an ice storm.

And they worked.

Netflix continues to grow leaps and bounds every year despite the incident. And while Neeleman is no longer at the helm of JetBlue, his apology remains a top example of companies owning up to their failures and pleasing their stakeholders in the process.

Turn the frowns around: leveraging your negative customer feedback

Now you get why negative feedback is a good thing for your business. What can you do to make use of it in your marketing?

Step 1: Compile the negative reviews

Start by seeking out all the negative reviews you can find. A simple Google search on the name of your business will likely turn up a bunch. Review-sites like Yelp, Trustpilot and Facebook are also useful, or any other platform you may have set up for your company.

Don’t forget feedback via email, text messages, Slack channels and even phone calls. It all counts. Be thorough.

Pull out all the negative comments and compile them. (Try the Airstory Researcher.) For my clients, I copied every one- and two-star review and recorded them in Google Docs – like a swipe file for negative feedback.

Feeling down from all the not-so-nice words you’ve tallied up?

Take your time to bask in any positive reviews, too. Or go do something else for awhile.

Mistakes happen to everyone, and there’s always a way to bounce back from the bottom.

Ok, done?

Step 2: Identify the pain points within the negative feedback

Get out your highlighter (virtual or otherwise) and go through all the feedback you’ve collected. Highlight all the pain points mentioned.

A pain point is something your business must solve to function successfully. Ever pulled your hair out waiting for your license to be renewed? That is a pain point.

You have discovered a pain point if the person complains about something that:

  • They assumed you would do but you did not
  • You did but that was unsatisfactory to them
  • You shouldn’t have done, according to them 
  • Your competitors are doing better than you

Some examples of common pain points include:

  • Paying too much for a mediocre product or service
  • Bad customer support
  • Slow delivery
  • Broken promises

If there’s a rationale for the negatives, include it. Highlight the text that appears to reveal the source – or the why – behind the customer’s unhappiness, like I did here: 

If you’re having problems identifying the pain point and the reason for it, the review may be too vague or too short. In that case, move on to the next one.

Now you should have a document full of your customers’ and clients’ pain points.

This is what mine looked like:

Step 3: Now check out what people are saying about your competitors

Next, you want to repeat the process but for your competitors’ feedback. Use whatever channels are publicly accessible, and compile a document much like you did for your business.

Criticism of your competitors’ services is a gap in the market you can fill. 

Since their customers are not satisfied, those very customers will be looking for another business or solution WITHOUT the negative aspects mentioned in the feedback. That’s where you come in.

For example: Picture yourself running a logo design agency. You discover your competitors don’t deliver their work on time. With this information, you know clients want deliverables to be sent quickly.

What do you do?

You craft your emails and proposals to include your agency’s speed in completing design projects, since you know that matters to prospects.

Make sense?

You can merge your competitors’ reviews together with your own, but I prefer to have separate files.

Ideally, you should have two documents: 

1) a document for your negative reviews and 

2) another document for your competitors’ negative reviews.

Highlight the pain points like you did in the previous step.

Step 4: Extract the biggest offenders

Organizing, extracting and analyzing your pain points – and those of your competitors – will help you unearth the most common offenders you’ll want to refer back to in your copy. 

I recommend building a table to record these pain points and sorting them based on the number of times they occur. You can do without it but it’s going to be messy if you have multiple reviews, so I suggest creating a simple table like this table I used for my clients (it’s yours for the copying).

I call it the Table of Mistakes. It’s extremely basic but it gets the job done. 

Sort these pain points into ‘bigpain points as shown below. Think of them as categories for your pain points.

The ‘big’ pain points vary for everyone. 

If you’re running a SaaS startup, for example, the availability and responsiveness of your website would be good additions to the table.

How the table works is simple 

The more entries under a big pain point, the more important it is for you to address and the more impact it will have when used in your copy. 

The same logic applies to your competitors’ table, except that more entries means a bigger market gap for you to fill.

Once you’re finished filling in the Table of Mistakes, focus on your biggest pain point and identify the key problems within it. These problems are the root cause of the pain point; they’re the reason(s) your customers or clients complained in the first place.

In my case, clients were confused about the cancellation and refund policy.

So I wrote that in the key problem column of my table.

The key problem column is a summary of the pain points for a category. In the example below, most of the complaints were about the product’s payment structure and cancellation policy. I summarized this and filled it in the key problem column.

Doing this allows you to see the big problem easily when you’re working on the copy later.

Fill in the key problems for your competitors’ pain points, too.

Nice!

You’re finally done with your Table of Mistakes.

Now you have a knowledge base documenting why prospects are unhappy with your business or industry.

Take a break or bookmark this post for later if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

The next section is going to talk about implementing what you’ve gathered into your sales materials.

Crafting an effective email campaign with your pain points

I’ll be talking solely about writing email copy, assuming you already have a list of subscribers to market to.

But if that’s not the case, and you’re interested in learning about how to generate leads or convert them to subscribers, HubSpot has an evergreen lead generation guide you can check out, and the incredible Jon Lamphier has a great piece on creating high-converting lead gen pages right here on Copyhackers.

Let’s turn your negative reviews into amazing, sales-generating emails.

For my clients, I used a five-part email series:

  • 1 introductory/welcome email
  • 3 value-based emails
  • 1 sales email (directing them to a landing page)

You can use any number of emails you want, but I suggest between three to seven emails for optimal results.

The key here is to acknowledge your vulnerabilities in your emails and, at the same time, convey your business’ strengths to your leads.

Cool. How the hell do I do that?

Refer to your completed Table of Mistakes. 

That table has everything you need to come up with incredible headlines and engaging copy.

Your only concern now is working your copywriting chops with the data you have and writing emails so good it’d be criminal for your leads to ignore.

Start by creating strong, personal subject lines

Everyone has their own beliefs, but I swear by starting with the subject line first.

I don’t have to tell you that the subject line IS the most important part of your email series if you care about open rates.  

No matter how great your copy or offer is, NOTHING will happen if the email is not opened in the first place.

In my client’s case, I used a brutally truthful headline for the first email:

This headline would’ve never seen the light of the day for 99% of businesses, but I had free reign and my client was comfortable with the tone.

I used the same style for the other subject lines in the series.

They were a hit. We achieved a 52% open rate average across every headline.

To make things sweeter, the autoresponder brought in 150 paid customers but the client only paid about $20 to acquire each one.

That’s the power of a strong subject line.

Higher open rates, lower lead costs and if your copy is equally top-notch, expect no less than a fruitful success from your campaign.

Choose a pain point as a base for you to craft your subject line.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

What would be the biggest concern for you?

I’ll take cost as an example.

The big problem was that customers were unclear about how the business’s payment structure worked. 

This led to serious misunderstandings as they believed they were being charged without permission.

I came up with a subject line addressing the problem and, at the same time, relaying the benefits of my client’s offer.

The offer for the campaign had a 100% refund policy so I wanted to leverage it in my subject line.

Leading to…

I used personal words like “me” and “you” instead of words like “we” or “our business.”

Why?

You want your subject lines to be as intimate as they can be.

Going back to my opening email, which of these subject lines would you click on?

“We messed up. We’re sorry.”

“I fucked up. I’m sorry.”

The second one would win almost always because it’s personal. You feel like the CEO is talking to you, not “we”.

In a nutshell, use your pain points in your subject lines and write them in a way that makes your readers feel you’re talking to them one-on-one.

Read this comprehensive post on writing effective headlines if you need more guidance.

Write copy to generate trust

I made a huge blunder in the first few days I was working on the campaign in question.

I worked hard on coming up with honest subject lines, but the actual body of the emails did not represent at all what was mentioned in the subject line.

I realized…

You shape expectations based on your subject line.

Before I knew it, I was already in a pickle.

My client was losing his mind over the emails. Open rates were brilliant but conversions remained as awful as ever.

Thankfully, I had a fallback.

Whenever my copy fails, I always return to the Toyota of copywriting techniques – the ever-reliant PAS formula.

It was perfect for the campaign, although I needed to tweak it a little.

The pain points were the problems, the comments left by disgruntled customers settled the agitation part and the steps we took to nullify the problem were the solution!

Here’s how one of the email intros looked like:

I wrote the body in response to my client’s team not giving enough guidance and motivation to customers – one of the major pain points.

I agitated leads further by mentioning how it must suck to not have enough help in completing the program. 

VERY IMPORTANT.

Empathize with your customers and understand why pain points exist to make it work.

You won’t be able to agitate your readers until you fully understand how the problems affect your customer.

When done right, your customers feel connected to you – like you’re living inside their head.

They are more likely to trust and like you more. 

Guess what that leads to?

More sales!

In my client’s case, I knew customers would struggle to progress in his course if the team did not provide enough support – so I used it as my agitation point.

The question is:

How do you come up with effective agitation copy?

You already have all your (and your competitors’) pain points. So put yourself in the shoes of your prospect and think of how it would affect you if the highlighted problem did happen to you.

I would be mad.

Waste of time.

My progress would stall.

Tune your mind to your prospects’ feelings and you’ll quickly get the inspiration you need to agitate your readers.

Belinda Weaver has a great resource for writing effective PAS-based copy to give you some inspiration. And here’s another super in-depth and useful guide for writing agitation copy from Joanna herself.

Now on to writing the solution.

Tell your leads what you’ve done to solve the problem.

Explain why the pain points are no longer a concern and more importantly, how they can benefit from your solution.

Here’s what I did.

I addressed the customer support concerns by mentioning that every customer will have a dedicated support staff member assisting them throughout the course, along with the gym’s updated 24-hour response policy.

Notice how I transitioned from weakness to benefits in the solution. 

What started off as an email to acknowledge a vulnerability has now turned into a pitch for the lead to try out a better solution for his or her pain point.

The key is to explicitly convey what you’ve done to address the deficiencies.

Saying, “Hey, we did something for you” is not going to work.

Customers want to hear, “Hey, I did X, Y and Z for you and here’s what you’ll gain.”

Relay how these changes impact your customers positively. 

For my client, improving the team’s attention to customers would mean that they would be able to complete the offer faster and eventually increase their bottom line.

You’ve heard about it a million times, but remember to emphasize the benefits your CUSTOMER will gain, NOT the benefits to your business.

Instead of:

“We have improved our team communication times.”

Use:

“Send a request and we’ll respond in an hour. Guaranteed.”

Another great conversion booster is specificity. This means including figures or statistics in the benefits of your solution as it’s a fact that specificity improves conversion rates

In my case, the client gave a $37 discount to leads who joined early. Instead of using dollars to convey the discount, I used a specific percentage to illustrate the savings. This drove home sales considerably as it was easier for buyers to see how much they would save if they signed up early.

This works in other industries, too. If you’re an accounting freelancer, for instance, telling your leads how many hours and the potential headache they can save with your services is a good way to apply specificity.

You can learn more on specificity in this really good post by Kelton Reid.

Why these tactics work

To help me understand what was working, I asked customers targeted in these campaigns why they made the purchase.

It turns out people were surprised by this:

How honest the emails were. 

In a barrage of generic “Last chance!” and “How this person used X and earned Y” nonsense, our emails stood out and made them feel like their attention mattered.

A huge contributing factor to the success was the subject lines.

I made sure they were:

  • Personalized to each prospect using their name or location
  • Relevant to the pain points I collected

Neville Medhora talked about how powerful personalized headlines can be in his blog post (totally worth reading) on writing great subject lines. 

The low-down?

Personal-sounding subject lines had significantly higher open rates compared to other types of subject lines.

I also received a brief but enlightening email from a customer…

When you use the tone or language your prospects are familiar with, they are more likely to trust what you say. The (slightly) vulgar headlines and copy I used may have been disastrous for larger companies where professionalism is a must – but they worked great for this particular client, where the audience talks like the client does.

Too many marketers become so engrossed in crafting awesome copy to the point where they forget who they’re writing for.

Can’t find the right tone to use for your audience? Don’t be afraid of emulating bodies of work that you like. Look at what other companies are doing successfully to gauge the effectiveness of your copy and gather inspiration – copywriters have been doing it for decades with swipe files.

When all else fails, go the old-fashioned route: get in touch with your customers personally.

Gather up those one-star reviews and start emailing

Hopefully, I’ve opened up your mind to the possibilities of leveraging negative feedback to your advantage.

So the next time you see a one-star review notification pop in your inbox, don’t fret. That review may just be the catalyst you need to kickstart a new offer and a successful email marketing campaign.

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In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails

We’ve written about email on Copyhackers… a lot.

And for good reason.

In 2019, email still has the highest ROI of any marketing channel ($42 return on every $1 spent, according to Litmus). And McKinsey found that email is 40x more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter – combined.

Email just plain works.

And here at Copyhackers, we take optimizing email… seriously. Very seriously.

We wrote about optimizing SaaS free trial emails, upgrading launch emails and sending B2B cold emails that actually work.

Yet… we’ve never tackled this beast: ecommerce emails.

But we’re not going to stay silent any longer.

There’s too much at stake…

In ecommerce, the average order value from email is 20% higher with 3x the conversion rate compared to other channels. Email is your best fuel for customer retention, and Harvard Business School found that just a 5% increase in retention can increase profits by 95%.

Ecommerce emails done right can be the lifeblood of an ecommerce business.

Yet, many ecommerce stores are deeply underinvested in email.

Even though 59% of marketers say email gives the greatest ROI of any marketing channel… 64% of ecommerce marketers expected their company’s email marketing budget to increase or significantly increase in the following year.

They’re realizing they need to be spending more on email marketing.

Not surprising, given that Pure360 found in a survey of 205 marketers that 9 out of 10 brands are behind the email marketing maturity standards they expected.

Beyond the numbers, it’s something that email consultants like myself see every day.

Austin Brawner, my friend and the CEO of Brand Growth Experts, has had a similar experience to mine.

I once heard him say, “I’ve been in hundreds of email marketing accounts and I have yet to see someone who’s sending too many emails.”

He’s right. Though many of us are worried about over-emailing, that’s rarely the problem. And big wins can come from small, strategic optimizations.

That’s why I almost always encourage clients to invest more in their email marketing. I know the impact it can have.

Like when I optimized the welcome sequence and abandoned cart sequence for my client, EcoVibe Style, I was able to increase their revenue from email to 38%… from a mere 8.7%.

That’s a 236% increase in revenue from email… from just two sequences.

But the difficulty isn’t in convincing store owners to care about email marketing. They know they should optimize their email marketing.

The struggle store owners are having… is in knowing how to go about optimizing their email marketing.

The (email marketing) struggle is real

The DMA’s email marketing survey asked marketers about their most significant challenges to investing more in their email marketing.

Their top answers were: “limited internal resources,” “lack of strategy” and “lack of content.”

So they want to send more emails… but they struggle to get the strategy and content expertise they need to do so.

Bottom line…

Ecommerce email marketing requires a great deal of expertise.

There’s a lot of know-how that goes into emails that convert.

There are sequences and newsletters, send times and from names, dozens of ESPs and email clients, subject lines and calls to action, exit intent pop-ups and floating bars…

When I started out as an email marketer, I was overwhelmed, too.

And when you finally decide on your strategy and get your technical pieces all set up, and it’s time to write an actual email… then you have to know what to put in that email. 

You need to figure out what will get the attention of your recipients, so all that time and money you’ve invested actually pays off.

When you finally sit down to write an email…

That’s the moment of truth.

Everything you’ve invested into your software and your content comes down to how well that email performs.

And… it’s only getting harder to win the inbox. 

The typical professional receives an average of 121 emails per day. Getting YOUR email to stand out is… tough.

Marketers know how hard it’s getting.

Which is why some resort to a strategy I don’t recommend:

Sending sale email… after sale email… after sale email… after sale email…

Every day, like clockwork, I get an email from Crate & Barrel.

Here, in my inbox, to announce a very exciting, ultra-exclusive, can-you-believe-it, hold-on-to-your-hat…. SALE SALE SALE!

And every day, their email goes… unopened.

But, I do understand why they send me these emails.

It’s an easy pattern to fall into: you send an email blast and it doesn’t get the conversions you’re after. So you send another email with a steep 40% discount and – BAM! – lots of people buy.

You try to go back to sending an email without a discount but it’s still not working. So now you send…

“FLASH SALE 70% OFF”

…and you get lots of conversions again.

Before you know it, every email you send out is a sale email.

Even if you’re not quite at Crate & Barrel’s level… it’s always tempting to send that sale email.

You want your email to pay off, after all. But… you also don’t want to get stuck sending emails that no one pays attention to.

And if you abuse the Sale Email, its magic starts to wear off.

The response from your subscribers changes from buckets of revenue to… deafening silence.

Unlike SaaS email marketing – where the bias tends to be toward nurturing subscribers, rather than selling to them – it seems that ecommerce has the opposite trend: selling without nurturing.

And Seth Godin would not approve.

The father of permission marketing, he revolutionized the way people think about marketing in the digital age:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing.“ – Seth Godin

Marketing is easy to ignore. Especially in a crowded inbox.

So if you can send those relevant, anticipated messages your subscribers crave, you’ll be that unexpected gem people look forward to getting emails from.

And thinking of email as permission-based marketing sets us up well to answer the question…

Well, what do customers want
in their email marketing?

They want variety.

The problem with Crate & Barrel’s emails isn’t that they’re sales emails.

It’s that they’re ALL sales emails.

If you’re having a sale tomorrow (and every day until the end of time), why should I be excited about today’s sale?

If, however, every time you send me an email, I can’t be 100% sure what’s going to be in it (cool content? a funny story? new products? or maybe even a… SALE?!?), then I’m anticipating and wondering what’s in your email.

Novelty is the best tool email marketers have to keep subscribers engaged.

Neuroscience research supports the idea that novelty is almost as effective at grabbing our attention as physical need.

…Meaning something new is almost as exciting to my brain as something that will satisfy my hunger.

(And I get really excited when I see a box of donuts.)

You can also see proof of the power of novelty by looking at the counter-example…

What happens when you don’t switch it up?

I see this often with my clients: they’ll find a subject line that works well, so they reuse the same formula. But, pretty quickly… it stops working.

It happened with one client recently…

My client found great success with a subject line that followed the formula…

“[Product] is back!”

His email got an open rate 30% above their average open rate.

Not too shabby.

They used that same formula with a different product again, and this time they got another open rate 39.9% above average.

Great! This formula works like a charm.

But when they used it for a third time… their open rate unexpectedly dropped to 8.7% below their average open rate.

What happened?

The subject line wasn’t novel anymore, so people stopped paying attention.

Very quickly… after just three uses… this subject line formula was dead.

An attention-grabbing air horn can turn into snooze-inducing white noise pretty quickly in the world of email.

That’s why a combination of sales emails peppered in with other kinds of emails is your best chance to keep people interested.

Let’s see how top brands use novelty
in their email marketing

Top brands that do this well use three different kinds of emails:

  1. Sales emails
  2. Nurture emails
  3. Engagement emails

A sales email is going for the close – like a promotion or a product announcement.

A nurture email is nurturing subscribers and building their affinity for the brand and product line.

And an engagement email is going for a click, rather than a sale – linking to content like blog posts, surveys and social media.

Kettle & Fire, a brand selling bone broth to health-conscious customers, uses all three kinds of emails well.

Sales emails that provide discounts and make the case for their product:

Ecommerce sales email example
Sales email: welcome.
Sales email: abandoned cart.

Both emails are driving toward the use of a coupon. The welcome email is selling people on the brand, and the abandoned cart email is selling them on the product.

Kettle & Fire is anticipating where the customer is at and, in turn, matching their message to what the customer needs to hear (i.e.: “You’re likely here because you heard bone broth promotes skin, nail, joint and digestive health.”)

They also use nurture emails that educate people on bone broth and its importance for gut health:

Nurture email.

This builds a loyal subscriber base that can point to reasons why Kettle & Fire’s products are desirable.

And they send engagement emails that get people clicking through to their website and their content and building their relationship with Kettle & Fire.

Engagement email.

This email does a great job of showing why their content is worthy of a click – and sends readers clicking through to an email course.

Kettle & Fire rotates between these three kinds of emails, always trying to anticipate where the customer is in their journey and giving them the message they need to hear at that moment.

Another brand that does this well is Moo, a company that sells business cards and stationery.

They rely on design to drive curiosity in some engagement emails:

Moo engagement email.
Moo engagement email.

And then go full plain-text in other engagement emails:

ecommerce welcome campaign
Moo engagement email.

And also send a mix of sale and nurture emails:

Moo sale email.
Moo nurture email.

A short sale email driving you to an exciting, unusual sale. And a welcome email nurturing you on the brand.

These brands do it all. They use a variety of email types and use short emails alongside longer emails to engage their subscribers.

Now, I want to stop here, just in case the thought in the back of your head is…

“Wait, but people don’t read long emails. They want images, not text.”

If at this point, this is all making sense to you…

But you’re worried about sending longer emails that people have time to read…

There’s a study you might want to see.

In 2014, Hubspot surveyed thousands of people asking them what kind of email they preferred to receive: HTML or plain-text.

And their answers support the idea that you should send design-focused emails.

HubSpot email survey

They said they preferred HTML over plain-text.

And when HubSpot asked if they wanted mostly text or images in their emails, they said images.

HubSpot email survey

So… all of this would indicate that we should send short emails, right? More images. Less text.

Well, here’s where things get interesting…

What people say they want in email vs. what emails they actually preferred to engage with… tell two completely different stories.

HubSpot email survey

Increasing the design of HTML in the email – with more design and more images – actually decreased open rates. If you’re like “email content doesn’t affect open rates” (which it does), the study continues…

HubSpot also found that emails with more images had lower click-through rates. Zero images in an email generated the highest click-through rates.

So it makes sense why many marketers believe that more images and more design is better for email marketing.

After all, that’s what people say they want. But what creates actual conversions is text (ahem, copy!) and simple design.

But, there’s a place for both kinds of emails. Design-rich and text-rich emails nurture and engage subscribers in different ways. And you can use text-rich emails when you want to increase conversion rates. (I prefer the nice sound of a ka-ching to praise, personally.)

So there’s a place for emails with more design than copy, and emails with more copy than design.

Now, we just need to figure out when a text-rich email makes sense and when you should be more to the point.

“How do I know how long to make my email? Then figure out… what to write in it??”

Well, dear copyhacker…

Let’s get copyhacking.

And let me show you the formula and template that will…

Let you determine exactly how long to make every ecommerce email you send. And solve the problem of what copy to include.

We will do this by answering four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

(If you’re not sure about all this “One Reader” and “stage of awareness” talk, check out 10x Landing Pages by Copyhackers. Yup, the foundational copywriting training in that course works for emails, too.)

Cool! There’s your answer. End of article.

I kid, I kid.

Let’s break down those four questions. And work through an example so it’s crystal clear.

We can use the email sequence from the sustainable apparel client I referenced earlier. I’ll show you how I built their welcome sequence to get them their 236% increase in revenue from email.We’re going to answer the four questions, then use them to fill in this template (which you can download for your own use):

And once that’s filled in, we’ll know exactly what content to include.

(Don’t worry about that template for now. We’ll come back to it later.)

Step 1. Find your One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness

If you’re not a seasoned copywriter yet, then stages of awareness may sound strange. Here’s a quick refresher:

Picture a slippery slope.

(Yes, I stole that from the great Joe Sugarman.)

Here’s how Joanna illustrates the stages of awareness and how they impact what you’ll write:

And here’s a modified view of that for ecommerce specifically:

If your prospects (your not-yet customers) are sliding down a slippery slope, on their way to becoming your customers, then they need to move from pain aware all the way through most aware to get there.

At each new stage, they come closer to buying your product, and importantly you cannot skip a stage.

If you want your prospect to turn into a customer, they cannot go from pain aware straight to most aware. They need solution awareness and product awareness to continue sliding down the slope.

So, in our example – the welcome sequence for the sustainable apparel brand – our one reader is new to our brand and probably knows little about what we offer.

So, in this case, I assumed they were in the earliest stage of awareness: pain aware. We use that information to answer the first question:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Great. One down, three to go.

Step 2. Figure out where your One Reader is in their customer lifecycle

Lifecycle marketing is the idea that customers go through a… well, lifecycle.

In the early stages, a prospect becomes aware of you. Then they buy from you. (Hooray!) Then, they might buy from you again. (Whoopee!)

…But eventually they lose interest in your products or stop needing them (how many {something funny} does one woman need anyway?) and they move on. 

A sad day, but an inevitable one.

To visualize, the customer lifecycle looks like:

Here are the main stages to remember, as they relate to email marketing:

  • New: New to our brand, never purchased
  • Abandoned cart: Close to purchasing
  • Post-purchase: Just after purchasing from the brand
  • Lifecycle: The natural lifecycle of a product when it would make sense to purchase again (e.g. for a 30-day supply of vitamins, the lifecycle would be 30 days)
  • Winback: When a customer has lapsed and is not purchasing at the normal lifecycle interval.

For our example…

Since it’s a welcome sequence, then we’re sending these to prospects who are new. They have yet to make a purchase from us.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
    New
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Moving right along…

Step 3. How many emails are in your sequence?

Now, this is something you can decide before you start creating content for your email sequence. It depends on the timing of your emails and how long you want your sequence to run.

If you’re sending a newsletter, then that would be a one-off and you can just fill in ‘one’. (The formula works the same way for newsletters.)

To help you decide how many emails to include in your sequence, here’s benchmark data from Klaviyo on how emails perform based on how many there are in the sequence:

For my sequence, I wanted to send four emails (so I could send a mix of sales and nurture emails). So let’s answer question #3.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
    New
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
    4
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Step 4. Figure out the goal of your email

And finally, we move from questions about the entire sequence to questions about each individual email.

To do this, we need to refer back to our template from earlier:

Now, let’s fill in the pieces that we already answered from the first three questions: lifecycle, stage of awareness and number of emails.

Now, for each of the four emails in this sequence, we need to decide on what kind of email we’re going to send: nurture, sales or engage.

Determine the kind of email you’ll send based on your goal:

  • Sales emails sell, so their KPI is revenue (if you’re generating more orders) or average order value (if you’re generating larger orders).
  • Nurture emails nurture, so the KPI… depends.
  • Engagement emails engage, so their KPIs are click-through rate followed by active time on site.

Now, let’s look at my welcome sequence for my sustainable apparel client.

In my four-email welcome sequence, I’m going to send:

  1. A welcome email with a discount coupon (which is the incentive to opt-in).
  2. A nurture email that tells a story about the brand.
  3. A second nurture email that tells another story about the brand.
  4. A reminder email – that their discount coupon (from email #1) is expiring today.

That means emails #1, #2 and #3 are nurture emails because we’re nurturing new subscribers. And email #4 is a sales email because it’s the final email in the sequence and it’s closing on the expiring discount. So now our template looks like this:

(Note: email #1 has Sales listed as a secondary goal. We won’t use that in our formula, but I included it because we may want to use revenue as a KPI for that email – since it has a discount coupon included.)

Now, let’s use our formula to fill in all the grey cells for us.

Here’s the formula that will eliminate the guesswork from how long to make our emails:

For nurture emails, the ending stage of awareness of that email is one stage past the beginning stage of awareness of that email (e.g. Problem → Solution, Solution → Product).

For sales emails, it doesn’t matter what the beginning stage of awareness is. The ending stage of awareness is always most aware. (Since we’re trying to make the sale).

For engagement emails, the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same. Since we’re trying to engage, not sell.

To make it easy, here’s your handy-dandy formula:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

So for our example welcome sequence, this fills in the rest of our template to look like this:

Of course, this formula didn’t give me the description of our One Reader at the top.

I got that from all my voice of customer research. (You can check out content from master researchers – like the tutorial of Copyhackers’s own Hannah Shamji on getting quality VoC from customer interviews – to learn how to get inside the head of your One Reader.)

Armed with your VoC research, and now with this template, you can see how to work your VoC data into the email sequence you’re building.

Now, I made two promises to you…

That you’d know how long to make your emails AND that it would become clear what to write in your emails.

So let’s see how this template helps us with both of these problems.

Problem #1: Knowing how long to make your email

Just as the original conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, teaches: copy is as long as it needs to be.

And you can figure out how long a piece of copy needs to be… by looking at the beginning and ending stages of awareness.

(Where your prospect is now vs. where they need to be for your goal.)

This template shows our beginning and ending stages of awareness for each email.

Let’s look at emails #1 and #4 from our sequence to see how this template influenced their length.

If you remember, both emails are giving a discount to the subscriber. So it would seem like they’d be identical in length. Right?

But what the template shows us, is:

  • Email #1 moves from problem aware to solution aware
  • Email #4 is already at most aware – and stays there

So email #1 is slightly longer than email #4 because it has more work to do. And email #4 is just going for the close.

Email #1
Email #4

They’re both discount, promotional emails, but that’s not what determines length. It’s the stages of awareness from our template that we need to adhere to. Here’s how to figure out how long your email should be:

The greater the distance between our beginning and ending stage of awareness of the email (with problem to most aware being the greatest), the longer our email needs to be.

So, length: solved.

Problem #2: Knowing what to write in your email

Now, this is the real magic of filling out the entire template.

To find what content is best, you need only to isolate the email that you’re currently writing and find the copy that solves your problem. 

Let’s look at email #2 for this one.

For this email, we’re moving the One Reader from solution to product aware for sustainable apparel.

So she knows about other sustainable apparel options, but she wants to know why our line of clothing in particular is better than our competitors’. And she’s frustrated that most sustainable clothes don’t look great and are expensive.

Bingo.

Now, all I have to do is weave the VoC I have from my research into an email about how problems with sustainable clothing shopping (the solution) are solved by a particular brand: EcoVibe (the product).

And the resulting email…

Armed with this template, and your voice-of-customer data, writing your email is largely done before you even open up your blank Google Doc. You know where to start, which is a great way to end Blank Page Syndrome. And you know your destination, which means you’re less likely to ramble. Now just plug that VoC into a compelling framework! Well, there’s a little more to it…

“I still don’t want to send long emails.”

If you’re still against writing a longer email with more than just a sentence or two of copy…

Darling, let’s not fight.

Let’s compromise.

Try writing an email with just a bit more length, but feel confident by putting a call-to-action above the fold.

Like I did in the first email of this sequence:

So no one has to read, if they don’t want to. They can click-through right away.

(And you and I can pick up this discussion later.)

“Okay, but what about campaign emails? Those go to a variety of people.”

You are absolutely right. I’ve got a suggestion for how to handle the varied audience of a typical email newsletter, but first I want to say…

THIS is exactly why segmentation is so powerful.

Segmentation helps you know which portion of your audience you’re speaking to, where they are in their customer lifecycle and what their stage of awareness is. The better your segmentation, the more you can dial-in your messaging and use this formula to your advantage. (Jo talks more about segmentation inside 10x Emails.)

But if you (like many ecommerce stores) are sending newsletters to your whole list…

You should switch it up between longer and shorter emails. Just like the examples I showed you above from Kettle & Fire. By getting different messages to your email list, you’ll get more of the right message to more of the right people.

Use nurture, sales and engagement emails to engage your whole email list. Use variety to target the natural segments within your email list.

A quick note on the engagement email –
the bread-and-butter of email newsletters.

Many times your campaign emails will be engagement emails. That’s the classic newsletter email that people think of when they think of marketing emails, where you link to content and try to get people to click through.

So let’s talk about what an engagement email should look like. Since, from our formula, you remember that the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same.

Engagement emails, as you expect, should be very short.

Our stage of awareness doesn’t change with an engagement email. The content that people click through to might change their stage of awareness, but that’s not our email’s job. Our email’s job is to get them to that content.

So, here, the copy should be very short. Just enough to entice them to want to know what’s after that button.

That’s why the very short Moo engagement email works.

It’s doing just enough to get you curious, and not distracting you with anything else.

Copyhackers also sends engagement emails that follow this principle:

Just enough to make your curious about the content. Nothing else to distract.

It’s your sales emails and nurture emails that will be longer. Since those need to bring your subscribers further along in their journey. So make sure you’re still including engagement emails in your email newsletter strategy.

Your ecommerce emails…
mapped, wrapped and ready

By answering the following four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

And armed with our voice of customer data and the answers to those four questions, we are able to fill in the white cells of this chart:

Then, use the following formula to automatically fill in the remaining grey cells:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

We’ve mapped out the entire content strategy of any ecommerce email sequence.

Whether the emails you’re sending are automated, a single newsletter, a 10-email long sequence… or any other hypothetical you can imagine, with these tools in your arsenal, your email content strategy is solved.

So you never have to stare at the blank page again.

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The post In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

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You Don’t Need Ads on Your Site to Monetize Your Blog. Here’s How Bloggers Make Six Figures.

They say hard work is a reward unto itself.

But for most freelancers – you know, the kind with bills and a constant eye on their bank balance – it’s a lot more rewarding when work turns into hard cash.

Let’s face it: There’re only so many pats on the back you can survive on when you’re trying to make money from your blog.

Like, five. Maybe seven, tops.

Eventually, probably sooner rather than later, you need to take those pats on the back and turn them into bank account deposits.

In other words, you need to monetize your blog.

You don’t have to go far to find the supposed secret to making money from a blog, either: shake a stick at Google, and you’ll find plenty of people promising that paid ads are your golden ticket to blogging for money.

Take Ryan Robinson, for example, who’s taught over 400,000 monthly readers how to start a blog. In his words: 

“Displaying advertisement space is arguably the easiest, most basic (and quickest) form of starting to make money blogging.”

And if you check out the number of ad buyers who partake in Google AdSense (one of the largest display ad networks), you’ll notice an upward trend for usage. 

Google AdSense users are on the rise

HOWEVER, also in blog guru Ryan Robinson’s words:

“Of all the different ways to make money blogging that I’m engaged in, [running ads] is one of the lowest returns in terms of total dollars earned (especially for my amount of traffic).”

With over 2.4 million readers last year, Ryan has the numbers to optimize ad payouts. 

Ryan Robinson's Blog Traffic
Ryan Robinson’s Blog Traffic

You need a minimum of 100,000 monthly pageviews to join AdThrive’s network and 25,000 monthly sessions (around 30,000 pageviews) for Mediavine (there’s no minimum for AdSense and Sovrn).

And that’s still not enough. These days, to earn $100,000 a year through Google AdSense, you need approximately 20,000 visitors a day.

Sheesh.

So, if you see someone bragging about the revenue power of ads like this recommendation from ProBlogger

AdSense is how I earn around 35% of my income as a full-time blogger and I would thoroughly recommend it as a way of monetizing a blog – especially for those just starting out.” 

…dig a little deeper and check the fine print (a.k.a., the date) like in the comments of ProBlogger founder Darren Rowse’s AdSense Tips article, which were published in – wait for it – 2009. 

BRIEF INTERRUPTION: We lurve Problogger around here. This is nothing against Problogger! Just a reminder to always check the dates when grabbing tips from the interwebs. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Needless to say, decade-old enthusiasm isn’t very reliable.

But okay. Let’s ignore the outdated advice for a minute. Say someone – someone with a pretty website and tons of widgets – says ad revenue brings in 35% of their blog earnings.

(Or, just say they’re someone who took the below survey…)

2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire
Distribution of blogging income – 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire

Well, there’s fine print there, too. 

If they make that much money with their blog, they’re hardly a beginner blogger. More likely, they’re an uber large publisher with over 100,000 unique monthly views. This report entirely omits bloggers who make less than $2,000 per month (which, in reality, is the majority of bloggers).

What’s more is that when you get into the really high income levels (over $25,000 per month), blogger income from ad revenue dramatically drops to 3%.

2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire
Blogging income from ads – 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire

Oh, and there’s one other teensy-weensy thing:

People don’t like ads.

I mean, look at the masses of online users who actively block ads. A chunky 25% of U.S. Internet users actively avoid giving ads the time of day.

From: eMarketer Report - Demanding a Better Ad Experience
From: eMarketer Report – Demanding a Better Ad Experience

And – just in case that simple truth isn’t enough – there is an onslaught of cons to putting ads on your blog:

  • Ads dilute your brand
  • Ads take up too much real estate on your page
  • Ads distract your reader and kill your conversions 
  • Ads increase your load time
  • Ads ruin your trust factor

So, the jury is in: Unless you have a blog that pulls in over 100,000 monthly views, paid ads aren’t the best way to make money online. They aren’t even a good way to do it. 

Where does that leave the hopeful blogger who wants to translate their adoring fans into adorable revenue streams?

In a much better place than you’d think, actually.

How much money can you make by monetizing your blog without using ads?

In short, you can earn more than six times the average annual income in the U.S. (which was logged at $31,786 per capita in 2017). 

If we’re talking freelance copywriter salaries, that’s triple the average amount that 50% of freelance copywriters expect to earn (which is less than $50,000 annually).

That’s right – pro bloggers can rake in an average annual revenue of $185,975.

From: ConvertKit's 2017 State of the Blogging Industry Report
From: ConvertKit’s 2017 State of the Blogging Industry Report

And if you’re really good, you can hit the six-figure mark on a MONTHLY basis.

Need proof?

In less than six years, Michelle Gardner, who runs the Making Sense Of Cents blog, one of the most successful monetized blogs out there, earns over $126,000 in monthly revenue.

From: 22 Wildly-Successful Bloggers Who Make Thousands of Dollars Every Month
From: 22 Wildly-Successful Bloggers Who Make Thousands of Dollars Every Month

Impressive, right? But far from the top-of-class results.

John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneurs on Fire, has grossed over $1.5 million for the year so far.

And totaled $16,204,901 in blog revenue since he launched in 2012 – wowsa.  

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Monthly Income Report
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Monthly Income Report

Did you notice any of his blog revenue flowing in from ads? 

Didn’t think so.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have six-plus years to dedicate solely to growing my blog.

Totally normal. These are superstar-status bloggers. 

(Plus, you need to run your freelance business, right?)

But that’s not to say you can’t make money blogging as a normal human-status blogger.

You can. You totally can. 

But not without some serious commitment.

Skip the commitment, and you’re likely to end up as one of the 69.4% of bloggers who make zilch. 

That’s right – the majority of bloggers don’t make any money at all.

From: Blog Tyrant's BIG Blogging Survey
From: Blog Tyrant’s BIG Blogging Survey

Why? Among other things, because they didn’t put in the commitment – 59.3% of bloggers start a blog and then abandon it. 

From: Blog Tyrant's BIG Blogging Survey
From: Blog Tyrant’s BIG Blogging Survey

To make money blogging, it’s likely to take a year to reach part-time income levels. For full-time income levels, double that timeframe.

Okay, so blog monetization is great, but not so easy-peasy. 

Let’s make sure you’re in the minority here and tackle when to monetize.

When should you monetize your blog?

The short answer: monetize your audience when you’ve established your blog and have a growing fanbase.

Like most everything, the long answer comes with more deets.

Does size matter? Of course it does.

Naturally, the bigger your following, the higher your chances of earning a significant income. Critical mass is a real thing. Check it out:

75% of the traffic and 90% of the leads HubSpot pulls in on its blog each month actually come from posts that weren’t published that month. 

From: Want More Blog traffic? Focus on Growing Subscribers - HubSpot
From: Want More Blog traffic? Focus on Growing Subscribers – HubSpot

When you hit critical mass levels, your older content starts working for you, spurring exponential growth like HubSpot’s 2011 and 2012 jumps in blog subscribership and blog traffic. 

But is it a requirement to have a large following? Not at all. 

You can start monetizing your blog as soon as you have your foundation laid out and a growing (even if slowly) subscriber list.

Seems straightforward enough.

Here’s the catch: You need to be willing to commit designated time to create content. And not just dropping an article or two from time to time. You need to publish consistently.

Why? Because that’s how you grow and sustain that growth. There’s no way around it.

So…how often should you blog?

Brands that publish over 16 posts each month get nearly 3.5 times more traffic than companies that publish zero to four monthly blog posts. (Is it good traffic? Is it returning traffic? That’s the topic of another post! One thing at a time.)

From: How Often Should Companies Blog - HubSpot
From: How Often Should Companies Blog – HubSpot

Beyond traffic, your blog frequency also affects the number of leads you pull in. If you’re a company with one to 10 employees (and as a freelancer, you probably are), sources say you’ll benefit the most by blogging more than 10 times per month.

From: How Often Should Companies Blog - HubSpot
From: How Often Should Companies Blog – HubSpot

And…how long should your blog posts be?

As far as blog post length goes, the optimal word count has been getting longer and longer. The average blog post ranges from 1,140 to 1,285 words, so the rule has become to shoot for at least that.

To hit the top 10 positions in search rankings though, you’ll want to write even longer.

Longer content = better search rankings
Longer content = better search rankings

If writing upwards of 2,450 words per post sounds overwhelming to you, you don’t have to leave your freelance blog monetizing dreams behind just yet. Shorter posts work well for different purposes. 

Case in point:

The moral here is: Aim to write at least 10 blog posts each month at 1,000+ words per post. If you’ve got the people-power to pump out more content, do it. And if you can write epic blog posts, (obviously) do that, too.

Sound doable? Then so will what’s next.

Best Blog Monetization Tactics
That Are Actually Doable 

Once you’re churning out content on the regular and building a solid audience, you’re ready to take it to the next level. So let’s get monetizing…

Write Sponsored Blog Posts and Product Reviews

One way to leverage your blog audience is to connect with companies that will pay you to either: 

  • Write a post about a relevant topic that includes a nestled link to their site (a sponsored post) or 
  • Review one of their products and services in your article (a product review).  

For a real life example, check out Lou Martin, a pro blogger, in action on her Product Review Mom blog. 

Lou Martin's Product Review Mom blog makes money by reviewing products

Lou gets paid anywhere from $200 to $500 per post review.

If that sounds like pennies to you, think again. She does this full-time while raising two teen girls. It adds up quick. Three to four quick reviews a week could give her full-time income.

Why does this blog monetization tip work so well? 

With your growing audience comes a niche market that other relevant brands and organizations want to tap into. They’ll pay you to access your like-minded audience.

Lou has drummed up a healthy niche audience that attracts large brand partners such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Neutrogena and more. She’s even got her audience demo info sorted out for partners to scan for a match.

Lou Martin's blog audience demographics

Influencers really take the cake for sponsored posts, though – 54% of them leverage their audiences and partake in publishing sponsored posts.

From: 85 Influencer Marketing Statistics that Will Surprise you in 2018 - Shane Barker Blog
From: 85 Influencer Marketing Statistics that Will Surprise you in 2018 – Shane Barker Blog

The better you are at promoting sponsored posts and the more consistent you are at churning them out, the better your paycheck will be.

If you take a closer look at John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneurs on Fire blog, the largest portion of his revenue currently comes from his sponsorship arrangements

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Income Report
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Income Report

As for what you can charge for sponsored posts, it runs the gamut. 

Annabel Candy, a seasoned 17-year blogger and original founder of SuccessfulBlogging, charges over $700 for a sponsored blog post

Ryan Robinson is another pro blogger who charges $1,500 per sponsored post

AuthorityHacker earns three to five figures in revenue for publishing reviews, as you can see in this 12-month earnings snapshot.

From: Authority Hacker 12-month Earnings Report
From: Authority Hacker 12-month Earnings Report

Naturally, the more your audience grows, the more you have to leverage per sponsored post and review. 

If you’re looking for ways to review products and secure sponsored posts, scope out some of these sites: 

And if you want to copywrite for your clients and help them promote affiliate products, there’s a near-endless supply of affiliate marketing programs to peruse:

But if that doesn’t suit your (or your client’s) brand, our next monetizing method might be more your speed.

Partner Up with Affiliates to Monetize Your Blog

Another monetizing option is to connect with affiliates. Just like sponsored posts, affiliate blogging also involves hooking up with like-minded peeps. 

The difference here is you’re paid a commission fee every time one of your readers purchases their products from one of your blog links.  

If you want to keep your integrity high and your reputation unscathed, make sure your affiliate partner sells products and services that your audience actually cares about

Ask yourself honestly: Will your audience benefit from your affiliate’s offer? 

Follow in the footsteps of others who do affiliate blogging well. Looping back to Michelle Gardner’s Making Sense of Cents blog, she exclusively promotes money-saving sites she believes in.

Money Saving Websites Michelle Gardner Promotes on Her Blog
Money Saving Websites Michelle Gardner Promotes on Her Blog

Which keeps her on topic and serving her audience’s interest with good quality products or services the single top reason why consumers trust brands.

From: Why Customer Trust Brands - Marketing Charts
From: Why Customer Trust Brands – Marketing Charts

There’s no need to inundate your following with useless products that won’t serve them. Beyond being an exercise in futility, doing so runs the risk of losing their trust, hands-down the most lethal biz move you can make.

After all, 63% of customers would only buy from you if they believed you to be authentic and trustworthy. 

On top of that, 81% of consumers “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.” So don’t blow it. You’ve worked hard at building trust among your blog audience.

Speaking of doing what’s right, it’s a legal U.S. requirement to disclose any affiliate links included in your blog. Michelle also nails this nicely at the top of her affiliates page.

From: Michelle Gardner's Affiliate Page
From: Michelle Gardner’s Affiliate Page

Okay, now that we’re clear on whom to partner up with (those who warrant trust, of course), on to the payouts for affiliate blogging.

An average affiliate commission runs between 5% and 30%

Just like commission rates vary, so do annual affiliate income levels. In one poll of 117 bloggers, the annual affiliate revenue ranged from less than $20,000 to over $2 million.

Why is the range so wide? It depends on several factors. The three biggest are:

  • Industry – Health companies like The Vitamin Shoppe pay out a max of 9% commission, while marketing SaaS companies like SEMrush pay as much as 40% in recurring commission.
  • Product priceGenerally speaking, lower-priced products tend to have higher commission rates and luxury goods often pay out at lower rates, which is why you’ll see a huge range from 1% to 75% on sites like ClickBank. 
  • Vendor’s valuation – Ultimately, payouts are decided on and set by the vendor

The gist of it is: Payouts vary, so while affiliate blogging can make bank for one creator, it can be more like a piggy bank for another.

Even within a single vertical, the numbers can run WILD. For instance, WordPress products offer an average commission payout of 35% for their affiliate programs, but that’s an average with a lot of standard deviation.

From: What's the Most Effective Commission Level for a WordPress Affiliate Program - codeinwp
From: What’s the Most Effective Commission Level for a WordPress Affiliate Program – codeinwp

Let’s zoom out, though, and look at the people behind the numbers.

Can affiliate blogging be a bust? Yes. 

Can you still earn a significant income? Double yes.

As a blogger who partakes heavily in WordPress’s affiliate marketing, Tom Dupuis went from making $20,000 to $150,000 within two years. Here’s a snapshot of a month’s worth of affiliate income at the end of 2018.

From: How to Make Money with Affiliate Marketing (2019 Guide) - Online Media Masters
From: How to Make Money with Affiliate Marketing (2019 Guide) – Online Media Masters

Michelle Gardner attributes 63% of her blog income to affiliates (for the month of August 2019) and she earns over $100,000 per month blogging. 

From: How I Made Money Blogging in August 2019 - Making Sense of Cents
From: How I Made Money Blogging in August 2019 – Making Sense of Cents

For a star-studded example of how much money you can make from affiliate blogging, look no further than Smart Passive Income’s founder, Pat Flynn. 

He earned $200,000 in commission payments for including a link to an exam software product on his first website almost a decade ago

Since then, he’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars from affiliate marketing including $300,000 from a single affiliate agreement with ConvertKit.

From: How I Earned $300K+ Passive Income from One Product - Smart Passive Income
From: How I Earned $300K+ Passive Income from One Product – Smart Passive Income

And yeah, if you’re wondering, the goods are solid on both sides of the affiliate blogging game – 65% of publishers claim the top benefit to affiliate marketing is generating additional revenue.

In the U.S. alone, retailers spend nearly $5.5 billion annually on affiliate marketing and a staggering 84% of online publishers use affiliate marketing. 

Oh, and unlike paid ads, blog publishers like affiliate marketing – 76% of publishers say affiliate programs make monetizing a cinch and 45% claim it doesn’t disrupt the user experience.

From: State of Affiliate Marketing Survey 2017 - Sovrn//Commerce
From: State of Affiliate Marketing Survey 2017 – Sovrn//Commerce

With warm and fuzzy sentiments like these, take a gander at some of today’s most popular affiliate programs:

As you can see, affiliate blogging is a lot like ice cream. There’s an option for every palette and diet.

In sum: Affiliate blogging is a non-intrusive way to serve your readers while making money from said service. Just be sure you can vouch for your affiliate’s offerings.

Our next blog monetizing tactic is also a way to serve your audience with tons of options. 

Productize Your Expertise and Sell a Digital Download to Earn Money Online

Selling digital downloads is a great way to scale your business without sinking in a ton of time.

Why? Because the majority of your work is done on the front-end. Once you’ve created your digital file and uploaded it to your site, you’ve conquered the uphill portion of the hustle. 

From there, you just need to maintain your marketing.

You don’t have to worry about hitting limits on customers or sales. Inventory mistakes that can cost you $10,000 aren’t a problem, either.

That flexibility carries over to the format, too.

You can go the guide route and create a downloadable how-to guide that walks people through your process, just like Robert Joyner does.

He sells his Painters Guide to Design & Composition for $49 a pop. 

Robert Joyner's Complete Guide to Design & Composition
Robert Joyner’s Complete Guide to Design & Composition

Entrepreneur Marc Eglon takes it a step further and sells The Tiny Product Manual for $39, to help creators turn their lightbulb ideas into tiny products. 

Marc Eglon's Tiny Product Manual
Marc Eglon’s Tiny Product Manual

Another option is to make processes super simple and streamlined for people by offering plug-and-play templates. Designer entrepreneur Vanessa Ryan’s Boho Chic Toolbox sells a bundle of templates for designers for $225.

Vanessa Ryan's Boho Chic Toolbox
Vanessa Ryan’s Boho Chic Toolbox

OR you can go a little wild and create an off-the-beaten-path digital download like Chris Albon’s Machine Learning Flashcards, which go for $12 for a package of 300.

Chris Albon's Machine Learning Flashcards
Chris Albon’s Machine Learning Flashcards

Okay, you get the point. 

Keep it relevant to your freelance copywriting business, of course, but there’s room to get creative with your format.

But as varied as digital download formats come, there’s one trait they all have in common (which you need to include): 

They make your target audience’s life easier. 

Put another way, jump on the ol’ “offer value” bus and solve your audience’s problems. 

After all, you’ve written your blog to help people solve their problems in the first place, right?

Selling your digital download shouldn’t be any different. 

Getting to the kind of income you can expect depends on your price. There are a few options for navigating pricing: 

Regardless of your pricing strategy, a good rule to follow is to price above your expenses, taxes and profits. 

And not to be afraid of testing that price out.

Some businesses massively increase their revenue by testing their pricing. Take Server Density, for example, which tested two price points and converted fewer customers but increased their total revenue by a giant 114%.

From: How Server Density Used VWO to Increase Its Revenue by 114%
From: How Server Density Used VWO to Increase Its Revenue by 114%

Okay, that’s all gravy for a SaaS company like Server Density, but it’s not for everyone. 

Be warned that testing your pricing strategy can also come with a couple of caveats:

  • It’s unlikely that your results will reach statistical significance (i.e., can’t be attributed to random chance)
  • You may price anchor and need to explain yourself (e.g., your no-longer-available lower price) to prospective customers

All in all: There’s no hard-fast rule to the type or price of digital download you sell. Get creative and offer something of value to your audience. See what they will – and won’t – pay for it.

If you do this well, you’ll scale your blog income. Our next monetizing tip also offers great scalability.

Sell an Online Course to Make Money Blogging

Another lucrative way to monetize your blog is to package up your knowledge and sell it in the form of an online course. It’s a timely tactic, too. 

Why? The market for elearning is on fire. 

Its latest valuation was $190 billion just last year and is anticipated to grow beyond the $300 billion mark by 2025. And 40% of that market share is anticipated to come from North America, totaling $120 billion by 2025. 

If you want to talk CAGR (compound annual growth rate), the elearning market is projected to grow at a 7% CAGR through the same time span.

From: Global Market Insights - Industry Trends
From: Global Market Insights – Industry Trends

As far as what to focus your course on, choose a topic that combines your passion with your copywriting expertise and has profit potential. 

More specifically, list out a bunch of ideas and start plotting them on this Passion/Profit Matrix.

(Want a printer-friendly version of this matrix? Then check out this 12,000-word guide on how to create, sell and profit from online courses.)

After you’re done plotting, choose the one from the upper-right quadrant that lights you up the most.

This process is how Amanda Boleyn came up with The Basics of Building a Business online course.

Amanda Boleyn's The Basics of Building a Business Course
Amanda Boleyn’s The Basics of Building a Business Course

Although that’s not to say choosing your course topic should end there. There’s a pretty big next step you can’t ignore. 

Validate and then validate again. (Makes it a two-part step, doesn’t it?)

In other words, check in with your audience and find out if your course topic is something they want to learn about and are willing to pay for.

To get useful feedback from your audience, reach out to them and ask questions. There are several ways to do this, so no excuses here:

  • Post about it on your social channels
  • DM people
  • Email your subscriber list
  • Run a poll or survey
  • Make phone calls
  • Chat with people face-to-face
  • Scour forums and groups and engage in conversations
  • Check out Amazon’s book inventory on the topic and read reviews

HOWEVER, it’s not enough just to ask. You need to listen to what your customers want.

That’s the key ingredient for complete market research validation. Once you do that, and only once you do that, you’ll find the effort worthwhile.

How worthwhile? Exceedingly.

That’s what entrepreneur Ryan Kulp’s experience was, anyway. Ryan tweeted to his audience to validate his online course idea and sold over $20,000 in online courses straight out of the gate.

Ryan Kulp validated his course idea with a tweet
Ryan Kulp validated his course idea with a tweet

Vincent Retg, a French entrepreneur who founded Le Musicien Formations, earned nearly 2,000 euros in online course sales in his first month offering his Melody Maker course.

Do you think he got there without validating his idea? (Spoiler: No, he definitely didn’t.)

Vincent Retg's Melody Maker course
Vincent Retg’s Melody Maker course

Finally, our beloved Michelle Gardner earned upwards of $434,698 selling a single online course. 

Michelle Gardner earned $434,698+ from a single course
Michelle Gardner earned $434,698+ from a single course

Success with online courses is like a wheel. The more speed you pick up in one rotation, the faster the next one is…

Every successful course launch puts you closer to launching six-figure courses.

How?

Going from blogger to online course seller is especially profitable as you gain traction and move further along in your blogging career. For pro bloggers who make over $25,000 in monthly income, a ginormous 80% of their income is generated from online courses.

From: 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study - The Blog Millionaire
From: 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study – The Blog Millionaire

However, while online courses are a burgeoning option for writers to monetize their blog, they’re far from the only solution.

If you don’t have the time and energy (or desire, for that matter) to create and market an online course – or if you’re not in a position to teach an entire course because, say, you’re not yet an expert on something – an ebook is another great info product to turn your fans into your patrons. 

Make Money by Selling Ebooks

Copyhackers started with four little ebooks, which brought in about $20K in 5 days and gave Jo the signal she needed to keep going with this biz. Today Copyhackers is a multi seven-figure business that gives ebooks away instead of selling ’em – but it all started with those four ebooks.

Just like the elearning market, ebookers also enjoys a healthy CAGR. The global ebook market is expected to grow at a 3.3% CAGR through 2023. Its current valuation is nearly $13.7 billion in revenue.

From: Statista
From: Statista

The global breakdown is where things get really interesting for the ebook market. The countries with high Internet penetration are the zones with the greatest market share. Check it out by region.

From: Statista
From: Statista

What does that mean for the near future? Look out for the quickly expanding Asia-Pacific region that’s welcoming digitalization and smart device penetration with open arms.

If you’re looking for topic ideas, go with a topic in your expertise wheelhouse that aligns with your passions and your business goals. Creating it will be more fun that way.

(And trust me, you’re going to need a little fun in there. All hard work and no play makes Jack a frustrated freelancer.)

A few fun ebook examples…

Spin up something like the creators of Pasta-based, Matt and Steph, did with their Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving ebook.

Creators of Pasta-based Matt and Steph's Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving ebook
Creators of Pasta-based Matt and Steph’s Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving Ebook

Or something similar to what entrepreneur, David Delahunty, created with his 5 Ideas a Day ebook.

David Delahunty's 5 Ideas a Day Ebook
David Delahunty’s 5 Ideas a Day Ebook

As for anticipated earnings, selling an ebook can potentially put you over the edge and earn enough money to quit your full-time gig. 

That’s what it did for creator Justin Jackson. In 2016, he was able to take the plunge from blogging side-hustler to full-time entrepreneur thanks to his ebook Marketing for Developers

In fact, selling his ebook was the final ingredient needed to bring in $146,000 in revenue that year.   

And Justin did so well with his ebook that he created an online course version of it. (Can you say gravy on top of gravy? His ebook practically became income poutine.)

Justin Jackson's Marketing for Developers Ebook and Course
Justin Jackson’s Marketing for Developers Ebook and Course

If you decide to go the ebook route, though, it comes with a caveat. 

Sure, the global market size projections look great, BUT there’s contending evidence that points to both ebook sales dropping and ebook sales growing. 

Whaa? 

A quick explanation:

In 2017, there was a contentious announcement that ebook sales fell 10%, which meant that 450 represented publishers witnessed a drop in ebook sales from 180 million to 162 million units within a year.

While that may appear to be a bleak outlook, there’s actually growth in the nitty-gritty detail. Reporting on that same year, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that “over 1,000 independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”

Amazon News tweet

Which means: Traditional publisher ebook sales declined while indie-published ebooks soared. 

And to further confuse the market stats, popular Data Guy’s proclamation that ebook sales doubled in 2018 in the U.S. was refuted by The New Publish Standard’s article that stated, “the industry data we’ve seen so far… paints a highly misleading picture of the market.”

From: The New Publish Standard
From: The New Publish Standard

How’s that for a dichotomy?

The main takeaway (and our recommended solution to selling your ebook) is to self-publish your ebook and either:

  • Sell it through your own site if you want all the profits or 
  • Sell it through Amazon with one hand in your pocket poised to hand back some of your revenue. 

10 steps to self-publish an ebook

Jo’s going to create a program on writing and self-publishing an ebook as part of Copyhackers’s upcoming Content School. But for now, to self-publish your ebook, we recommend these 10 simple steps:

  1. Decide on your ebook topic
  2. Record yourself talking about your topic
  3. Get your recording transcribed
  4. Sit down (or stand!) and turn your transcript into a great draft
  5. Title it
  6. Proofread it, format it and add your images
  7. Design your ebook cover
  8. Convert it to a digital download file
  9. Price your ebook
  10. Publish your ebook to your storefront and sell

Pretty straightforward, right?

Phew – that’s five of the best routes to monetize a blog. Let’s recap.

Do you need to carve out an ad budget to make money blogging?

One word: Nope.

Do you need to hit all five of these best blog monetization methods to restock your bank account?

Three words: Most certainly, no. 

Even if you only carry out one, you’ll be miles ahead of zero blog income. It doesn’t even really matter which one it is, either. 

A whopping 61% of consumers make a purchase based on a blog post they’ve read, which means at least 61% of your readers are primed for monetization.

From: Tech Client - Blogging Statistics
From: Tech Client – Blogging Statistics

In other words, if you have anything useful at all to sell to your audience, chances are your blog-reading audience will buy it. (After all, you’re their trusted source who authors the content they’ve been eating up). 

HOWEVER, the more blog monetization channels you tap into, the better off you’ll be. 

Translation: Diversify your blog income (i.e., try as many of these five blog monetization tactics as you can) to earn more money. The more you diversify, the more you’ll earn.

For the cherry on top, let’s go back to our iconic blog monetization king, John Lee Dumas, one more time. 

In September, 2019, his revenue from sponsorships and affiliate revenue are basically even stevens.

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire

But that wasn’t the case just six months ago. Affiliate revenue accounted for almost half of his blog income then.

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire

Imagine how much more that change would’ve hurt if he had less streams to rely on. Or, at the very least, imagine how much more stagnant his income would be if he didn’t keep it varied.

Now, be like John, ditch the ads and start loading up your plate with the buffet spread of blog monetization tactics: 

  • Secure sponsors for your blog posts and review products and services of like-minded businesses
  • Include affiliate links in your blog and receive a commission each time someone purchases
  • Create a digital download and sell it on your blog
  • Productize your knowledge with an online course and sell it to your blog readers
  • Self-publish an ebook and sell it to your blog audience

It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of party, so long as you do actually choose. Good luck!

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The post You Don’t Need Ads on Your Site to Monetize Your Blog. Here’s How Bloggers Make Six Figures. appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.



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