Everyone knows you need an online presence. Sometimes it even starts to feel like a list of chores: Create a website—check. Engaging content—check. A sales funnel/lead-nurturing campaign—check, check. Search engine rankings—check.
As important as these things are, they only skirt the key to marketing success using copy today—namely, strategy.
Without a unifying marketing strategy, the copy you write—and the time and money you spend on it—will only be half as effective as it deserves to be.
So what does it take to rock it at leveraging copy to position yourself in the market, drive sales, and reach your other world-changing objectives?
To answer this question, we asked three experts from vastly different niches to weigh in and share their insights about what’s working for them:
Carol Tice is a professional freelance writer who makes big bucks pitching articles to prestigious publications and by teaching her audience to do the same. Her new e-book, Small Blog, Big Income, which launches today, teaches how to get your company or personal blog to pay off, even if you don’t have a great following.
Ron Baron is a semi-retired industry leader with 25 years’ experience as a business executive at Winthrop-Akins. He now spends part of his time helping dozens of speakers and business owners jump-start their audience and brand each year by hosting and marketing educational cruises with them as the star. He can be contacted at BaronMotivator@gmail.com.
Pam Brayton is the Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the LDS (‘Mormon’) church in the Albany, NY region. She orchestrates traditional news and social media campaigns to inform public opinion about the LDS church and its members. Her work also generates interfaith and community support for humanitarian efforts such as the new I Was a Stranger initiative, which serves refugees.
Secret 1: Match Your Strategy to Your Audience.
Our experts reminded us that the “tools” you have to convey your copy isn’t nearly as important as how you use them. The genius that makes a copy strategy effective has more to do with how you combine these tools to reach and engage your particular audience.
Carol Tice prefaces her comments by saying, “I don’t consider myself a copywriter”—but she does do her own stunts, and if her 15,000 person audience is any indication, her copy does the trick. She generates much of her income by writing e-books and online courses to help writers find a niche and connect with clients that will pay them well.
“You need a…website,” she says, “Without a website, it’s like you’re invisible.” But the main point of her website, Make a Living Writing, is to add people to her Email list. It features a prominent subscribe form offering a valuable free e-book, to encourage people to sign up. Then, when a reader joins she can use Email to build a relationship, offer value-added freebies, and, when appropriate, drive her fans to landing pages for paid offerings.
“Email plus landing pages—those are kind of my two main backbones,” she says. (Tice recommends Leadpages.com for easy-to-use landing page creation.)
Aside from her Email and landing page strategies, Tice also makes use of social media sites to engage with audiences that favor them.
“I do preselling in Facebook, like offering a free product to grow interest. But not anything that costs money. Offering anything that costs money on Facebook is a huge waste of your time.”
But Tice really has a place in her heart for LinkedIn.
“LinkedIn is huge,” she says. She advises professionals to go to LinkedIn “and really write the heck out of your profile.” Specifically, “write copy in the summary of your LinkedIn profile and optimize it for searches,” because, as she says, “business owners don’t go to Google and just look around [anymore].” Another mistake she sees too often is LinkedIn profiles that fail to link the readers back to a website, thus losing people who would have clicked through.
Tice stresses that the key is getting all the pieces of the strategy to work in tandem to ultimately guide prospects first to your community, then to your customer base: “The more of these tools you can get working together, the more beautiful life becomes, in every way.”
Ron Baron’s venture involves setting up educational cruises for speakers and entrepreneurs looking to create an engaged community and grow their customer base. He not only books but also handles the marketing for these cruises, which can net $100k in profit per each.
The catch? Every cruise targets a new audience, and that means he has to figure out how to talk to a whole new group of people every time. As he puts it, “Credibility is the greatest hurdle we have to face.”
Here’s how Baron leverages copy to make this powerhouse venture work—with a 3rd party copy strategy:
Step one: Set up a landing page.
“If want the URL ‘CancerAwareness.com,’ you can pretty much forget it. But if you make it ‘CancerAwarenessCruises.com,’ you can get a really juicy URL for not very much.”
Step two: Find key influencers that already serve the target audience.
“With a blog, or Email, it’s 80% relationship building and 20% selling,” he says, “So, the trick is to engage others who [already] have credibility, and are good at writing—latch onto people who have invested heavily in a credible brand. Ride the coattails of someone who’s already done the relationship building.”
For Baron, this means finding the top 100 bloggers in his target niche—except, he says, the top ten. “They have big egos, and usually refuse to work with you unless you pay them big sums of money up front; but number 11 and down dream of being in the top ten. And they see this as an opportunity to move up.”
Step Three: Start sending Emails. “I write an Email to the blogger and tell him that I’ll give him $100 for every one of his readers that comes on the cruise. Then, to track that, I have him tell his readers that I’ll take $100 off the price for them if they tell me he sent them. This is good for everybody, but it also adds value to the blogger’s name, because now it’s earning his readers a great deal.”
Baron also invites these bloggers to recruit their audiences—offering anyone who brings friends $100 per person, and the passengers they bring onboard the same $100 discount.
(So, when you book your cruise with Ron Baron, make sure you tell him NerdyGirl sent you 🙂
How can he justify this model? “You have to raise your prices so you can afford this kind of referral program,” says Baron. He explains, “I’m a big fan of 20%-30% referral fees. The higher price doesn’t matter—coming as a referral from a credible source increases the value of the offer enough to offset the price difference [in the mind of the customer]; but you only ever pay when you make a sale.…It’s the ultimate pay-per-click.”
Step Four: Round out the strategy with limited use of other social media. “I contract that out to social media teams” Baron says, “I pay them a little bit up front, and then give them 5% of the gross profit from the cruise—but not until the cruise sails, or just before it sails. If the cruise does well, they stand to be vastly overpaid. If it doesn’t… well, they could end up underpaid. But the teams that have worked with me in the past are confident that isn’t a problem.”
Again, the genius of this isn’t simply by having social media, but by harnessing it with incentives that allow everyone to benefit.
Pam Brayton’s objectives as a volunteer PR professional for a major religious organization in Upstate New York are obviously very different from Tice’s or Baron’s, but she shares this in common with them—she relies heavily on the written word to persuade decision makers and reach her goals.
Her role is defined in the church’s Public Affairs Training Guide: “Public affairs is primarily concerned with creating and maintaining positive relationships with key…opinion leaders.” (p. 4)
In practice, Brayton says, this boils down to two main jobs: 1) support the local objectives of the church, such as obtaining building permits and developing collaboration with other faiths and the community for projects like the I Was a Stranger refugee campaign, and 2) “shape public perceptions [and] communicate accurate and positive information” (Public Affairs Training Guide, p. 4) about Mormons and their faith.
All of this adds up to a unique copy strategy for Brayton, and the two main tools she uses to achieve her objectives are the local newspapers and social media—especially Facebook.
The key to leveraging both, she says, is usually to create a story of interest to broadcast. Paradoxically, while most social media strategies aim to air a message that is relevant to the largest audience possible, Brayton finds that her niche forces her to focus small and local.
“What we’ve found, is that ‘big’ stories don’t typically do as well as more local ones. In fact, the best way to get bigger stories to succeed is to find a way to ‘localize’ them. Some of the best success has been when we’ve had a video or photo. People would get excited and share it and say, ‘Hey! I know that guy!’”
“Posts about really church related things don’t do as well as community stuff,” she says. “Local service projects and local events do well. [One of the congregations] posted about a funeral in the neighborhood, and that Facebook post reached a lot of people.”
The strategy seems to be working. Since she began her assignment two years ago, Brayton says she has seen Facebook posts that have reached more than 11,000 people.
Finally, Brayton is responsible to help the church facilitate and channel the social media efforts of the more than 4,500 members within her area of responsibility, creating a grassroots engagement for spreading news and awareness.
“There’s a lot of training I do for the members, about what is and isn’t appropriate, and to focus on more substantive content, instead of on fluff.”
Secret 2. Find a Niche and Craft the Copy They’ll Feel.
Pulling the media you use for broadcasting your copy together into a tight package is important, but it’s only half the battle. Clearly, what you say is at least as important as how you deliver it.
Professionals who are great at copy understand that their copy needs to speak to something their audience is passionate about—something they can feel rather than just think about.
Carol Tice says, “Get into a niche and follow the money. All the time, people say to me, ‘But I really love being a generalist.’ When I see generalists making a lot of money, I’ll start recommending that. But I don’t.”
She says the solution is to make your branding as clear as possible—and that developing a tagline is a great place to start.
“My tagline is ‘Practical Help for Hungry Writers.’ My readers are in pain. Some of them are losing their houses. My tagline shows them I understand what they’re going through. Then, I’m in a position… to show them, ‘hey, I’m there for you,’ and offer them a solution.”
She points out that a unique, well-targeted tagline helps with SEO and is even visible in Google search results. “It’s a really huge piece of real-estate.”
Ron Baron agrees. “The brain tells us to shop, but the heart tells us from whom to buy,” he says, “and people love to justify overpaying.” The key? Meaningful differentiation. “Sometimes it’s the tiniest things,” he says.
“When I ask people why they spend what they do, on an overpriced oil change, for example, they say, ‘But you just don’t understand the experience. That guy remembers my name. He brings me coffee. He remembers I like not one, not two, but three lumps of sugar.’”
He goes on, “Don’t tell me what you do exactly the same as your competitors. If you don’t think you’re a better CPA than the next guy, then close up and go get a ‘real job.’ But if you do, show me. You’ve got to stand for something in order to succeed.”
Pam Brayton sees the same thing. “The best stories are either about kids, or else they’re about something really interesting” to fellow Upstate New Yorkers.
She talks about when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir visited Albany. “There was a man, not a member of the church, who had always had a dream of singing with the choir. And he was one of the people chosen to sing with them.”
“It—well—it changed his life,” she says. “That story caught the interest of a lot of people. It was run in a lot of the local papers; and even some of the bigger ones, too.”
Secret 3. Maximize Copy Effectiveness through Personal Interaction.
There’s a lot of talk out there about creating a “set it and forget it” pipeline that does all the work for you, but our experts don’t seem convinced.
Carol Tice put it this way: “As smaller-audience bloggers, what we can do that the big guys can’t is spend more time actively serving and interacting with our readers.” (For example, in anticipation of tomorrow’s book release, Tice is spending most of today doing a Q&A on her blog.)
What about in-person networking? “Oh, I’m a HUGE fan,” she says, “That’s how I would decide which conferences to go to. That’s how I met Danny Inny, John Morrow, [and other key players in the industry].” She attributes a lot of her own success to developing an in-person rapport with other influencers in her niche.
Ron Baron used to use e-commerce tools for his cruise business, but found they didn’t work. People had so many questions and doubts that they weren’t willing to make a $500 investment.
“Now, I put my contact information on the website, and I or my daughter take the call, and talk to the person, answer their questions.” It’s much more effective, he says.
What he’s found is that this personal interaction has benefits beyond just making more sales. “When we get to the ship, I don’t know those passengers from Adam. But they already believe that we have a friendship, and in a training environment, that’s very important.”
Baron also uses interpersonal interaction to create an engaged community for his clients once the ship sets sail.
“We have the participants do ‘life threatening’ trust exercises—we try to come up with something specific to the theme of the training. These kinds of experiences get people to feel connected to each other. Then, when they go home, they continue to be a group. And a group of a few hundred people is a much more powerful audience than just a collection of individuals.”
One of Pam Brayton’s responsibilities as a PR rep is to “develop relationships that are relevant and meaningful” with individuals. Like Tice, she finds that interacting directly with influencers opens up opportunities and audiences for her message. For example, “I’ve developed a relationship with one correspondent in particular, who runs regular articles on religious topics in his paper. Over the course of those interactions, he’s taken an interest in being able to publish something from the LDS community on a regular basis.”
And of course, the news and social media exposure that come out of Brayton’s efforts create thousands of opportunities for conversation between members of her faith and others, which is where she feels the most valuable opportunities are for mutual understanding and cooperation.
Our guest experts’ experience highlights some consistent themes about how great professionals leverage their copy strategically to get the results they want.
Match your copy strategy to their audience.
Move your niche with messages for the heart, not just the brain.
Make personal interaction a part of your strategy for maximum effect.
What can you do to enhance your copy strategy?