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How Outlines Improve Your Content

Written by Taylor Hawes

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The Case For Outlines How It Makes Your Content Better

There are few among us that take delight in organization. The process of planning something instead of building it requires a great deal of patience. When it comes to content, however, everything from your process to your impact can benefit from an organizational outline. By enabling writing, reading, focus, and memory, outlines are a powerful tool for any business blog, improving perception and enabling your commercial goals.

 

They Facilitate the Writing Process

Writing is a unique skill set, endowed in only a few. Unfortunately for those of us without that gift, our companies need content, and that content must be of prime quality to build a readership.

Fortunately, outlines help ease the process of writing, imbuing the kind of quality required of published content for even those with meager writing skill. By creating a structure around which ideas are formed, the mind naturally constructs ideas in a coherent manner, allowing you to easily articulate one element of your piece after another, unburdened by concerns of flow and formation.

Furthermore, they help provide inspiration. When writing content paragraph by paragraph without understanding the “geography” of your work, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. By understanding your work from a top-down perspective, filling in the prompts with coherent paragraphs becomes a much less arduous task.

 

They Make Reading Easier

The writer isn’t the only party that benefits from outlines. The ever-important reader reaps the fruits of organizational effort as well.

Our minds are eased by structure. Traffic lights, lines at grocery stores, and chapters in books all help us understand the boundaries of our actions and attention, working to help guide our cognitive resources in one, simple direction. Outlines are much like the road signs that lead us to highways and points of interest, constructing a narrative and helping set expectations for what’s to come.

In addition, well-crafted headings help summon the resources needed to finish reading. If your reader is forced to determine whether they should continue with each passing paragraph, the cognitive burden involved is likely to lead to page abandonment. Attention grabbing headings help remedy this decision-making process by piquing their interests and guiding them forward.

 

They Provides Focus

If you’ve ever had a conversation with a pedantic acquaintance, then you know how difficult unfocused conversation can be. If your conversation partner is offering compelling information
or engaging you on an active basis, then your attention is held, identifying value in the
experience. In the case of the talkative friend, however, your mind wanders, wondering when
the toil will end, and when your next important task can begin.

Poorly structured pieces are like wordy cohorts: they amble, providing value, but only among meandering sentences. Outlines help remedy this situation by setting reader expectations and then delivering on them in an efficient manner. An article entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Product Pages” makes a lofty promise, but by breaking the writing process into manageable chunks, the reader develops an understanding of the aspects of product pages that a cursory discussion could not deliver, perceiving value and continuing through to the final paragraph.

 

They Make Your Message More Memorable

Your content delivers value, but that’s not its only purpose. In helping your customers, your ultimate goal is to strengthen your brand and facilitate sales conversion through an engaging
conversation. Without the mental association between your content and your company, these
efforts fall short.

Outlines, through their multiple benefits, help build this desired association. By allowing writers to write more effectively, easing the readers burden, and providing focused value, readers
inherently recognize the value of your efforts. The end result is an enhancement of brand image
that will have a synergistic effect on commercial success.

With content gaining importance in the marketplace, it’s tempting to prioritize pace over
organization, but savvy writers know that outlines facilitate both rate of production and ROI. By
unburdening your writing process, improving reader experience, adding focused value to your
content, and leaving an impression in the minds of customers, outlines represent one of the
most valuable tools in your blogging and marketing toolkit.

How To Develop A Clear Voice For Your Brand

Written by Taylor Hawes

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

How To Develop a Clear Voice For Your Brand

There are many elements of your business that contribute to its success, but perhaps the most important (and intangible) is your brand. From the visual design of your ads to the reputation of your customerservice team, your brand has a voice, and identifying it can improve many aspects of your operations. By understanding the importance of this voice, identifying the characteristics that articulate it, and honing in on your desired perception, you too can take advantage of this powerful tool.
 

Understanding Voice

First, it’s important to understand what “voice” is in a marketing sense. Simply put, it is how you say things and what language you utilize when talking about your products, services, and business.

Your voice creates a culture that your customers will recognize and relate to. If properly implemented everything your business produces (emails, website copy, social media messages, etc.) will all have this same tone. Well utilized, a clear voice will connect you to your customer through consistent rhythm, pacing, word choice, and aim.

 

Defining Your Identity

So how can you craft this elusive unique voice for your brand? The key lies in identifying the following three traits:

● What your brand is

● Who your target customer is

● What you sound like

Maintaining a voice that’s consistent with your current marketing efforts will help strengthen your reputation, identifying your target customer will help craft a voice that resonates with them, and determining what your voice will sound like will help craft the language you use.

While these items can be challenging to nail down, the following steps will help you identify the points that separate you from competitor and help you craft a clear voice that communicates efficiently and personally with your customers:

1. Identify your company’s values- Why was your company started? What is the driving force as to why you are in business? It should be clear from your mission statement, catch phrase or tagline.

2. Pinpoint any basic human values your company embodies- Perhaps your company is more spiritual focused or abstract. Identify what these are.

3. Note what it is about the way your company works that is different- What makes you stand out from your competition? Noting this difference will help show you your priorities and values.
 

Constructing Your Message

Once you have distinguished yourself and know clearly who you are it is time to select language. There are several linguistic considerations to weigh.

The first is formal vs informal language. This will largely be denoted by your audience. Ask your team which will appeal more to your customers: “Here is an opportunity we would like to bring to your attention” or “Hey there is going to be a great sale coming up!”?

The next is technical vs. simplified language. Depending on what kind of business you are and the education level of your base audience your vocabulary will need to accommodate their reading level. In addition, B2B and industrial organizations will need to deliver language that meets the technical knowledge of their target audience.

Among the more subtle aspects of your voice is colloquial language. If you can make pop culture references and the vast majority of your audience will understand them, inserting some slang into your voice is an option. However if you have an older or more traditional audience you might want to stray away from these. This can be largely dependent on the geographic location of your audience.

The final and most niche consideration is swearing. Rarely there are companies who can get away with swearing as part of their brand voice. Less extreme swear words such as “hell” or “damn” might seem insignificant to you but can still have an impact with your audience. If it is a significant part of your voice proceed with caution.

 

Once you have developed a clear banding strategy craft your brand voice is an essential next step. A clear brand voice is a simple tool to help your consumers relate and better identify with you, improving your customer service, recognition, messaging, and revenue.

So You Want To Start A Business? Start Here

Written by Taylor Hawes

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

So You Want To Start A Business Start Here
Ambitious minds take ambitious action, and few actions are more ambitious than starting a business. If you find yourself in possession of a killer idea, or wish to grow a fledgling enterprise, it’s important to know what you’re in for. Here’s how to build your idea from the ground up, and turn your ideas and resources into something rewarding.
 

Start with Your Motivations

To begin with, ask yourself why you would want to start a business. The success of many businesses has a lot to do with our motivations for starting it in the first place. A business can become your annual salary, while also fulfilling your desire to do work that’s more meaningful. Having your own business means finally getting to be the boss, and constructing a schedule that is optimal to your lifestyle.

Perhaps you’ve finally realized that what you’re best at can provide immense value to others and would constitute a firm foundation for entrepreneurship. Many are simply exhausted from sitting behind a desk and would love to monetize the thing they’re passionate about. Whatever your motivations may be, identify them, and use them as fuel going forward.
 

Turn Your General Idea Into Something Specific

Next, it’s important to identify what your product will be. Let’s say you want to help the earth by selling items that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the possibilities, spend some time researching what’s already out there, and begin to hone in on a niche that means the most to you. The easiest way to become successful is by doing something better than what already exists, or by doing it differently.

Ask yourself these questions:

• Who is going to buy my product or service?

• How will you be getting paid?

• Is my service going to be sustainable over the next decade?

The best businesses aim to solve a problem, and will survive by making a difference. Don’t be afraid to start small and simple, there will always be room for growth.
 

Take Out A Loan, Or Start Saving Money

It’d be unfair to tell you the average cost of starting a business when it is entirely dependent on what product or service you intend to offer. However, whether you’ll need $100 or $30,000, you’re going to have to develop a business plan. A major component to that plan will be the cost of starting up, as well as money necessary to keep you going until your first sales start rolling in. To estimate your costs of starting up, make two lists: one for your assets and the other for startup expenses.

Assets- Also known as capital expenditures, these will be the one-time costs. Think of property, equipment, and certain inventory as things you’ll only buy at the beginning, or again down the road.

Expenses- These are the recurring costs that will be a part of the startup costs and continue throughout the life of the business. Things like rent, supplies, marketing materials, gas, and how much you will pay potential employees.

Once you have a firm business model, it may be a good time to consider taking out the loan. If loans aren’t your style, by all means proceed with the planning and set a goal for how much to save.
 

Make It Official

If you’ve made it this far, then you should be proud. Making your business official means you have
a direction, are likely ready to invest in its growth. To prepare for this, here a few legal and financial steps to consider.

1. Determine the Legal Structure

• What form of ownership is best for you? This will determine which income tax form you will file.

2. Register Your Business Name

• This will be registered with your State Government if you do business as anything but your legal name.

3. Set Up a Tax I.D.

• This will be used to identify your business as an entity.

4. Register For State And Local Taxes

• In addition to taxes required by the federal government you will have to pay some state and local taxes.

5. Acquire Licenses and Permits

• To run your business legally there are certain federal and state licenses you need to obtain.
 

Breathe

It may seem overwhelming, but the more you educate yourself the easier it will become. An important thing to remember is if you’ve chosen to go into business for the right reasons, eventually you’re going to make it happen. Foreknowledge, structure, and a calm mind will do a great deal when building a sound financial future through entrepreneurship.

The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Personas

Written by Taylor Hawes

Monday, March 10th, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Personas

The local bakery down the street has a unique opportunity. By interacting with customers on a daily basis, the owners gain a deeper understanding of what their most valued patrons want. However, when you move from Main Street to the World Wide Web, the picture becomes blurrier as that one-on-one time becomes scarce. Fortunately, one tool is offering the opportunity to turn broad customer insight into a tailored approach that improves conversion, service, and satisfaction for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

 

Researching Your Audience

Buyer personas are a sophisticated approach to introducing the individual perspective back into broad-based demographic analysis. However, this approach requires that you start with a broad-based perspective in order to obtain an accurate understanding of buyer behavior.

For this reason, personas begin with audience research. This research can come in a number of forms, including:

  • Analytics

  • Surveys

  • Focus groups

  • Direct-mail responses

  • Interviews

  • Comments

 

Each of these formats provides its own insight. For example, analytics and high-volume surveys provide overarching trends for your audience that can be used to help narrow your focus. Focus groups and interviews, on the other hand, provide a more conversational opportunity to discover specific buyer behaviors and mentalities. Blog and social media comments are more informal, but contribute a fair degree of information that connects demographics with attitudes and values.

This initial step should focus on drawing the “boundaries” of your audience; essentially the broad characteristics of your regular customers. This way, you’ll understand who falls outside the boundaries of your audience and better comprehend the specific behaviors of your unique following.

 

Breaking it Down

With this broad cross-sectional data in hand, the next step is to break it down. As mentioned, the benefit of overarching data is that it frames the kind of personalities that fall within your target audience. Breaking this information down into individual personalities is what turns audience research into high-conversion personas.

Begin by looking at the characteristics that fall into the majority of responses. If most of your site hits occur around lunch and just after working hours, it’s likely that your audience is of employment age. If the majority of your audience falls into a below-average income bracket, then it is possible that your deals are what attract an audience.

Look at each trend in your data as a piece of a puzzle. If your comment-to-follower ratio is higher on Facebook than on Twitter, then this points to a demographic that is likely just out of college or older, since younger generations are trending toward Twitter. This one element becomes noteworthy due to its connection to audience behavior. For now, simply focus on collecting the pieces of your buyer profiles through data and interviews and leave the actual assembly for later.

 

Understanding Personas

At this juncture, it is important to understand precisely what a buyer persona is. Knowing this will render assembly of your data-driven “pieces” easier, and provide insight into how they can be used.

If your marketing team uses broad audience research to design advertising materials, certain results occur. For example, if your business finds that your customer base is overwhelmingly female, ads and content may be created to appeal to females. If you’re looking to expand into your reach, additional materials may be crafted to appeal to males. In either instance, business decisions are made on the basis of characteristics.

What this approach fails to understand is that behavior and characteristics are not so easily correlated. Buyer personas attempt to introduce the concept of buyer behavior to the equation, informing marketing efforts and product development with the user in mind. A buyer persona focuses on the daily life, habits, values, beliefs, and goals of customers instead of their raw demographic information, constructing a picture of their average day that can be utilized to great effect.

 

Building Personas

It is with this mentality that you should then approach assembling your data. Two mechanisms should influence your construction process: social trends and observation. Pinterest, for example is largely slanted toward females, indicating that activity on that account is likely linked to the female portion of your audience. This kind of analysis should then be balanced by observational data, i.e. focus group discussions that specifically indicate buyer behavior and predilections.

In this step, it is much easier to understand the concept through example. Here are some insights that may contribute to a buyer persona:

  • John Q checks Facebook in the morning and browses news sites at night

  • Tina H values safety for her family

  • David M watches product reviews on YouTube and CNET before making a purchase on our online shop

 

The names are, of course, fictitious, but the behaviors are not. Your data should outline behaviors such as these, providing insight into the day-to-day life of customers and identifying patterns in purchasing processes and consistent habits.

 

Putting them to Use

With this understanding of buyer behavior, it is now possible to put it to use. From advertising to product pages, everything about your operations can be influenced and improved using this powerful tool.

Marketing efforts stand to gain a great deal of insight from these profiles. Ads can be targeted toward relevant social media sites using keywords and schedules designed around customer habits. The content of ads and blog posts can be tailored to reflect the hobbies or interests of your customers. Finally, innovative engagement opportunities can be developed around specific knowledge of your customer base, helping lead to higher participation and conversion rates.

Next, product development can be influenced by this understanding of customer characteristics. If your eReader is mostly used at night after a long day at work, it should possess a backlight that makes text readable without straining the eyes. If you find that your software is used by an older generation, buttons and text can be made bigger to allow for easier interface and navigation.

Finally, sales can become more focused and targeted based on customer values. If a bargain is important, priority may be placed on offering deep discounts to help get your foot in the door. If family is important to your customers, then mentioning how your product can help them find more time with their loved ones is a great way to increase conversion rates.

 

From top to bottom, buyer personas provide an intimate portrait of your patrons that can influence all aspects of operations. Begin by understanding your audience at large and drill down to the specific behaviors that make them tick. Inform your efforts with this insight and your product, pitch, and website can all become a little more effective and a little more profitable.

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