Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Write Stuff People Want to Read

Content is king for Internet marketing. This has always been true, but never more so than now, when you need to prove you're an expert before people visit your Web site. But how do you write great content that compels readers to keep reading?

The secret is simple: Solve their problems.

In other words, first write about stuff they care about, and then lead them to your products, your services and your cause.

This is easier said than done, I know! So I created a simple five-step process for writing a high-quality article that gives you the chance to promote yourself as well. I call it the PIPES process.

I developed this process because I saw too many low-impact articles on speaker Web sites, and the only alternative model seemed to be the "pushy" sales letters direct marketers use. The PIPES process gives you the right balance – it's about 80% content and 20% selling.

I'll explain the process here, and use this example to illustrate it:
Suppose you're an expert in customer service for the banking industry, and you work with call centre staff who have sufficient technical knowledge, but lack the interpersonal skills to deal with frustrated, angry and confused customers. You're now going to write an article to persuade managers to book your in-house training program for their staff.
I won't write out the article in full for this example, but you'll see enough to understand how it works.

State the PROBLEM they are experiencing.


Describe it in the words they use, not the words you use.

Example:
Customer satisfaction surveys show complaints about call centre staff are increasing steadily.

Tell them the IMPLICATIONS of the problem.


Explain the consequences, and if possible quantify how much it is really costing them.

Example:
  • Customers are closing their accounts and moving to other banks.
  • Call centre staff are frustrated and stressed, and hence less productive.
  • Call centre staff burn out, so staff turnover is higher than ever before.
Your goal is to make them realise how much more it's costing them than they realised. They can see the wound, but it's your job here to pour salt into the wound and rub it in!

So consider all the negative consequences and list them here. Where possible, use numbers to quantify these issues. However, be careful not to make claims you can't support. As much as possible, justify your statements with research, case studies, media reports and other sources.

Point out the POSSIBILITIES if they didn't have the problem.


Paint a rosy picture of how their life would be better if they didn't have that problem.

Example:
  • Happier – and hence more loyal – customers
  • Happier – and hence more productive and loyal – staff
  • Fewer personal issues for managers to handle
Again, your goal is to make them realise the consequences of the problem, but now we're talking about positive consequences of not having the problem. To begin with, simply consider the opposite scenarios to the implications you've already listed. The more you can provide concrete examples, numbers and research, the more persuasive your argument will be.

Give them an EXPLANATION of how to solve the problem.


Keep this brief, but not so brief that they feel cheated out of a true explanation. The point here is that you tell them how to solve their problem without you.

This is not an advertisement for your training program (that comes later). Rather, you describe what needs to happen to solve the problem (in other words, what you teach in your program). For example:

  • The staff member acknowledges the callers' emotions without getting emotionally involved themselves.
  • The staff member then separates the technical issue from the emotional issue.
  • The staff member creates an agreed plan of action with the caller.
Give a reasonable explanation here – even if it's just in summary form – so they don't feel resentful you're holding back a "secret". Somebody with the time and inclination could now go ahead and do these things themselves, without using your services. But in the next step, we'll give them a compelling reason to choose you.

Tell them what SOLUTIONS you offer to help them solve it.


Finally, tell them how you can help them implement the solution you've described. This can be as simple as a link to the Web page that promotes the in-house training program.

Of course, this is not the only way to write an article, but it's fairly easy to follow, even if you're a novice writer.

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